Kentucky resident and writing teacher Lavender plumbs his vocation for material and gets his hooks in deep with this arresting debut set on a generic Midwestern campus.
On the first day of Logic and Reasoning 204, sphinx-like Professor Williams assigns his students the most sinister of logic problems. “There’s been a murder,” he tells them. “A hypothetical. A potential murder”—or so he claims. Their homework is to prevent the killing, in six weeks, of an invented victim called Polly by correlating the slim leads, facts and photographs provided piecemeal by Williams. Our reluctant detectives are a trio of students, superficially drawn but effective in propelling the narrative forward. Hot-tempered Brian House is given to violent rages after receiving the assignment. Dennis Flaherty, an arrogant frat boy on the surface, is treading emotional water in a clandestine affair with the dean’s wife. Inquisitive but prone to crushes, Mary Butler hides her unrequited affection for Dennis by burying her nose in books. The three soon discover secrets behind Williams’s assignment. As the multifaceted deception begins to unravel, real danger comes to light. Mary is threatened by the professor’s assistant. A police detective recalls the disappearance of an actual young woman whose plight was disturbingly similar to Polly’s. At a party at Williams’s house, Mary is handed a note that warns, “None of this is real.” With superb confidence, Lavender constructs a brilliant fictional web of lies, inventively warping the psychological thriller to fit the confines of a scholarly investigation.
An inspired thriller about cognitive dissonance, conjectural misdirection and the conspicuous dichotomy between academia and the real world.