Parker’s (The Prospect, 2008) latest novel tells a tale of suspicious deaths, drugs and compromised investigations at a small West Virginia college.
Decent young man Cullen Brewer is a talented quarterback and student-body president at Clear River College. The fall semester looks promising for the Clear River Cougars until sophomore wide receiver Dane Antonelli is found dead in a dormitory stairwell. The coroner rules it a heart attack, which seems very odd to Serena Johnson, reporter for the college paper, and Serena and Cullen warily team up to get to the bottom of the mystery. They soon investigate Jordan Hancel, Cullen’s lifelong friend and teammate, who’s behaving suspiciously, and Jordan’s father, Tom, the chairman of the college’s Board of Governors, who wants to push a four-lane highway right through the campus. It also turns out that English professor John Petry’s athlete son died in similar circumstances years before. The story goes on to feature car crashes, fistfights and discoveries of drugs. Parker has delivered a readable mystery, but the novel contains some disconcerting missteps. At one point, for example, Darby’s Bar is located in Beaumont; at another, it has migrated to Buckhannon. In that same bar, Jordan and his father are served draft beers, but on the next page, the father’s beer is in a bottle. The prose also contains needless redundancies and wordiness (“The right front bumper of Matt’s car had clipped the edge of the guardrail, bending the front bumper”; “a headache that started pounding inside his head”). Often, the author’s choice of words could be simplified: Cullen “traversed” campus rather than simply crossing it, and professor Petry “ensnares” Cullen’s elbow rather than simply taking hold of it. That said, if readers can get past such distractions, there are rewards to be had. Parker handles the overall plot fairly well and is especially adept at depicting play-by-play football action and fight scenes.
An often engaging, if uneven, college-town mystery.