Picks and Pans Review: Very Much a Lady

updated 05/02/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/02/1983 01:00AM

by Shana Alexander

On the night of March 10, 1980, Jean Harris shot and killed Dr. Herman Tarnower, author of the best-seller The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet and the man who had rejected her love. After a four-month trial, Harris, who had been headmistress of the conservative Madeira School for girls in Greenway, Va., was convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years to life. Two years after the tragedy has faded from the headlines, veteran journalist Shana Alexander has written a book confirming its enduring fascination. In straightforward prose Alexander paints psychological profiles of both victim and murderess. Her description of the crime is the most complete account yet, doubtless because Alexander is the only journalist to have interviewed Harris in depth since the crime. Alexander wrote 1979's Anyone's Daughter, a sympathetic look at Patty Hearst, and it is clear whose side she is on this time. The first sentence of the Author's Note is telling: "I saw her first on TV, stepping out of a police car, and thought—she reminds me of me." But rather than detracting from her book, the author's bias in Harris' favor gives it a useful perspective, whether or not you agree with her conclusions. (Little, Brown, $17.50)

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