An often engaging, if uneven, college-town mystery.


Breakdown at Clear River

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.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0983394785

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Mid-Atlantic Highlands Press

Review Posted Online: March 8, 2013

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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