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The professor and the prostitute.

The professor and the prostitute. – book reviews

Nick Jordan

The Professor and the Prostitute and Other True Tales of Murder and Madness

There are eight million stories in the Naked City. Here, in Linda Wolfe’s The Professor and the Prostitute and Other True Tales of Murder and Madness (Houghton Mifflin, $16.95), are nine of them. Wolfe chronicles the dissipations, disappearances and deaths of seemingly respectable middle- and upper-middle-class citizens, giving equal weight to the scandalous tidbits of their declines and analysis of the psychological underpinnings of her subjects’ bizarre behavior.

The commercially ambitious melange of the lurid and the highbrow is only partly successful. The best of the collection is the title essay, in which Wolfe gives a detailed, revealing and cogent chronicle of a Boston medical school professor who ruins himself by falling in love with a beautiful prostitute, then killing her. Also good is Wolfe’s look at the thriving gay nightlife of suburban New York, in which she unravels the details behind the murder of a transsexual.

Wolfe has set herself a formidable task: to unravel the motives behind seemingly sudden, uncharacteristic and extreme changes in behavior. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the material Wolfe is exploring, her best sources are often dead, and a few of the pieces are little more than speculation with some neighborhood gossip thrown in.

Many of these stories first appeared in shorter form in New York magazine. In expanding and revising them here, Wolfe has given them something more than mere shock value, and she only occasionally lapses into the purple prose so typical of the true crime genre.

COPYRIGHT 1986 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group