Susanna Moore's obnoxious new book, In the Cut, is a novel of breathtaking condescension and snobbism trying to pass itself off as an ironic serial-killer thriller. The author's protagonist is a white English professor at New York University whose classes consist primarily of African-American students. In her spare time, she's writing a book about urban ethnic slang, or what she calls ''the eccentricities of pronunciation.'' The first-person narrator says she's overheard people make linguistic mistakes like ''Old Timer's Disease, rather than Alzheimer's. Abominal for stomach. Athletic fit for epileptic fit. Chicken pops. Very close veins. The prostrate gland....'' Moore can keep this sort of thing up for pages; the inescapable implication is that we're supposed to be amused, in a ''My, don't those people talk funny?'' kind of way.
The narrator gets to know a police detective investigating the murder of a woman that soon turns into a pattern of killings. They meet cute -- she stumbles upon him receiving oral sex in the back room of a bar -- and before you know it, the narrator and the cop are making the beast with two backs on his office desk. Moore's graphic sex scenes (I'll give her this -- she does a bang-up job with masturbation) would be a relief from the haughty tripe of the plot were these couplings not also marred by damp, pretentious prose: ''He slipped away immediately in that careful, self-protecting way in which a man resumes the guardianship, the custodianship of his own penis.'' Okay, boys, raise the drawbridge!
The professor makes it clear that Det. James Malloy is below her station in life by telling us how fascinating she finds his nonstop strings of conversational obscenities and ethnic slurs. Hmmm: a supercilious academic and a fictionalized Mark Fuhrman -- these are characters to get involved with?
Moore has a literary reputation based on earlier, more mannerly novels such as The Whiteness of Bones and Sleeping Beauties, but In the Cut, most kindly interpreted as a bid for commercial success by a writer with contempt for the genre she's chosen, is a cut below Dean R. Koontz.