Past Lives Denied, a Sophisticated Murder Mystery by Ellenmorris Tiegerman

The Bottom Line: A sophisticated, entertaining murder mystery that successfully fuses bitter academic infighting with an exploration of past life regression. An impressive debut for Ellenmorris Tiegerman. 

Caitlyn Morrys is a Freudian psychologist struggling to reconcile her training with flashbacks from past lives: witch burnings in papal Europe, Nazi death camps, and nightmarish wars and struggles from the distant past in the U.S., Israel and southeast Asia. She believes that if word gets out about her past life regressions, her colleagues might deem her “a neurotic, a wannabe clairvoyant, or a New Age witch.”  

Meanwhile, Caitlyn is locked in a heated battle with the university administration. It seems that university president Uzinski – the head of a regime she thinks of as practicing “tyrannical demagoguery – is forcing the school provosts to ritually manipulate the process of hiring, firing and awarding or denying tenure. From cover-to-cover, Caitlyn is obsessed with politics of all kinds: campus politics, disability politics and actual politics in the form of the Stutts Foundation, an “ultraliberal international think tank” whose academicians are purportedly infiltrating the university with Uzinski’s help. Her commentary is always biting, and her observations – including petty interpersonal revulsion – is alwas entertaining. 

The book’s focus shifts dramatically from academic faculty drama to murder mystery when Uzinski is found fatally stabbed in his office. Caitlyn loses an adversary, but worries that police will consider her a suspect in his death. The reality is that Caitlyn’s world is filled with similarly passionate educators, many of whom are seething with jealousy and loathing. The list of potential suspects is long. 

Debut novelist Ellenmorris Tiegerman, the Executive Director of Tiegerman School and a Professor Emeritus at the Derner Institute for Advanced Psychology Studies at Adelphi University, writes Past Lives Denied with the authority of an academic insider. Those not familiar with the inner workings of higher education may be shocked at the complexity and hellishness of various committees, faculty hierarchies and the pressure to publish. Tiegerman devotes substantial real estate to these topics, laying groundwork in the process for the motive of the killer or killers. Caitlyn’s passion and idealism is also a doorway into putting her character into potential danger as well. 

Learnings from past life regression therapy shine through in illuminating, highly cinematic jolts. It takes time for Tiegerman’s exploration of past experiences to gel with the overall plot, but the narrative threads come together convincingly in the book’s final chapters. Readers may guess the identity of the killer or killers far before the end, but the way Tiegerman uses past-and-present worlds along the way is a true original. 

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