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The Sirens of Suspense



“What if you could read a book and treat it as a competition between you and its author? 

This is the question at the heart of Will Lavender’s second novel, Dominance. Like in his debut, Obedience, which was a 2008 New York TimesBestseller, we once again find ourselves on a college campus.

It is 1994,and Vermont’s small Jasper College has decided to offer an experimental night class, “Unraveling a Literary Mystery”, to only nine handpicked students. The class is shrouded in controversy as the professor, famed literary scholarRichard Aldiss, will be teaching via video feed from prison, where he has been serving a life sentence since 1982 for the murder of two female graduate students. The victims killed with an axe and their bodies’ decorated with the works of reclusive author Paul Fallows. It is Fallows around whom the night class revolves. His two novels, The Coil and The Golden Silence, are believed by scholars to beriddled with clues. The goal of the class? For the students to follow the clue sand learn Fallow’s true identity. 

Aldiss inducts the students into the Procedure, a game played by Fallow scholars where the players reenact scenes from the novels – but the game becomes dangerous,and lines begin to blur when students realize they have been playing far longer than they knew. Alex Shipley quickly emerges as the student fated to complete the task set by the professor, and follows the twisted path to solve the riddle of Fallow’s identity – acquitting Richard Aldiss of the murders in the process.

In the present day, a student from the night class is found murdered – the body arranged in the same way the graduate students’ had been years before. Alex,now a professor at Harvard, returns to Jasper at the request of the police to investigate Aldiss and her former classmates, who have all been brought together for the funeral. Had she been wrong fifteen years ago, has theProcedure begun again, and how many of the nine will survive?

Lavender created a fabulously diverse cast of characters for the night class. Calling them together to stay in a mansion inhabited by an eccentric, makeup-wearing dean makes the modern story line reminiscent of one of Christie’s manor house mysteries. Dominance is truly a feat of psychological suspense (though Lavender prefers to call his genre “puzzle thrillers”) – you think you know what happened fifteen years before, but asLavender unveils each clue, the faster the finger of guilt changes direction. Dominance keeps you guessing to the end . .. or is it just the beginning?


If you liked Dominance, consider:

Obedience by Will Lavender

TheMagus by John Fowles

39Clues by Rick Riordan (Y.A.)

TheWesting Game by Ellen Raskin (Y.A.)

TheGame (1997 film,which some believe was loosely based on TheMagus)

This review originally posted on The Poisoned Pen blog, read it and comment here:

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