When a popular high school teacher suddenly vanishes, a pack of his most devoted former students starts looking for him in this debut novel.
Bob Fiske is a legendary high school English teacher and football coach at Evanston Township High in Michigan who’s known for his undying dedication to his students. He regularly compiles an unofficial list of “Winners,” a roster meant both to recognize students for their talents and inspire underachievers to fulfill their unrealized promise. Then Fiske mysteriously disappears, raising suspicions of foul play. Some admiring past Winners are so distraught they organize their own search party, prepared to put their lives on hold until they track him down, their loyalty to Fiske affectingly depicted by Bond. The group doesn’t have much time. Principal Mancini and Fiske have long been bitter rivals—the teacher is infamous for his confrontational demeanor. Mancini gives the band 24 hours to find Fiske before he’s terminated from his job for dereliction of duty. The team of faithful former students is led by Stephanie “Steph” Reece, who was one of Fiske’s brightest pupils. She is haunted by guilt that she squandered his support by falling short of her extraordinary potential. She’s especially attached to Fiske since he became something of a substitute for her own father, who died of cancer when she was only 3 years old. There’s a break in the case when another past Winner—Eric Pinkersby, an astonishingly successful tech entrepreneur—discovers that Fiske has been exchanging texts regularly with Autumn Brockert, a 16-year-old student of his. And when she too goes missing, the police suspect he abducted her, though Steph simply can’t accept that her idol is a craven predator.
Bond collapses two distinct literary genres into one seamless novelistic whole: a mystery and an emotional drama. While the past Winners hunt down clues in order to find Fiske, they’re forced to confront the memories of their high school selves and the extent to which their adult lives are either a consummation or betrayal of their youthful talents. And Fiske is deliciously enigmatic—though almost heroically supportive of his students, he seems to harbor a dark past, filled with rueful remorse. The author subtly captures Fiske’s complexity as well as his penchant for profoundly stirring inspiration: “Stephanie, time is our mortal enemy. Time leeches ambition. Never forget that greatness lives inside you. No matter how far off course you stray—no matter what you’ve done or have to atone for in the past—greatness remains. Greatness is never beyond salvage.” But the plot becomes increasingly convoluted and implausible and exchanges the dramatic nuance that typified the beginning for operatic melodrama. Yet Bond is so ingeniously inventive—he consistently moves the story in wholly unpredictable directions—that it’s likely readers will forgive these real but minor fictional vices. The novel’s central mystery is thrilling, but the true spine of the tale is the fragile connections between the past Winners, who must not only investigate Fiske’s disappearance, but also the authenticity of their lives and friendships.
An exhilarating and emotionally astute mystery.