Professor turns to crime writing

May 28, 1999

Workmen laying foundations for a school of postgraduate studies at Barcelona's Autonomous University unearth human remains.

Meanwhile, Pepita Sanch!s, professor of Catalan cultural anthropology, receives a bequest of books and papers belonging to a recently deceased prominent local politician.

Sifting through the papers, she finds a trail of clues leading her back to a murder committed more than 20 years ago.

These are not headlines from the Spanish press, but the plot of The Professor of Moronta Valley, the latest novel by Josep Maria Riera, head of publications at Barcelona's Autonomous University.

Mr Riera says that all characters and events in his book are fictitious, but he does tackle some of the real problems facing the Spanish university system.

Scenes in Professor Sanch!s's fictional department portray what Mr Riera calls the "feudal relations" between staff with tenure, contract lecturers and students doing part-time jobs.

In reality, Spanish universities are staffed by 22,000 temporary lecturers on short-term contracts. Competition for tenure is fierce and there have been recent protests alleging that selection boards reserve jobs for internal candidates as a reward for services rendered to the department.

Mr Riera said the university rector recently asked when the book would be published. "I told him in September as it should be easier for me to find another job in October."

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