We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence

Grand Central. Nov. 2020. 464p. ISBN 9781538746837. $28. CRIME
Cooper (Mapping Manhattan) expertly crafts a twisted web of murder, mystery, and misogyny. In 2009, as a Harvard undergraduate, she learned of Jane Britton, a student whose violent death 50 years earlier continued to fuel the school’s rumor mill. No arrests were made at the time, but according to lore, Britton was fatally bludgeoned by an archaeology professor with whom she’d been having an affair; supposedly, the professor responsible was still employed by the university. In 2018, still transfixed by this cold case, Cooper returned to Harvard, living on campus to sleuth out the truth and figure out whether the university had conspired to cover up the murder. The child of working-class parents in Queens, NY, Cooper often felt like an outsider in Harvard’s hallowed halls, and she brings a nuanced perspective as she strives to discover what happened to this intelligent young woman who fell victim to the “cowboy culture” of elite male students and administrators at an all-powerful institution.
VERDICT Cooper’s suspenseful, intensely intimate work casts a critical lens on institutional misogyny. Sure to appeal to true crime readers, especially fans of Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.
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