In the wake of the horrific death of a special education student, a school psychologist investigates a series of brutal attacks against bullies in this debut novel.
Still reeling from the death of his wife at the hands of a drunken driver, Dr. Marcus “Marc” Thomas has returned to his small Colorado hometown, Rua Springs, and taken a job as a school psychologist. When Patsy Anderson, a special education student and one of the young people that Marc has put so much of his caring work into, is found hung in the boys’ locker room, he is once again shaken by death’s unexpected visit. Rua Springs, the kind of insular town that lives for its high school football games and where everybody knows everybody, is equally stunned. But the cloud of suspicion as to whether Patsy’s death was suicide or murder soon leads to unexpected fallout, as school bullies find themselves being punished by a group of vigilantes, the book’s eponymous Einstein Posse, in vicious, sometimes sexually violent ways. Marc is not alone in his investigations into Patsy’s death and this mysterious band of revenge-seekers, as he is joined by his comical housemates, the two previous generations of Thomas men: his intuitive, even-tempered father and his fedora-wearing, dancing, and drinking grandfather. Winter’s thriller utilizes a noir-style narration with a twist, stepping away from the hard-boiled for a first-person perspective that is comfortable and conversational (“On the day one of my special education students died I was sitting in a school meeting counting the holes in ceiling tiles”). But at times, it’s a little too digressive, reflecting the compassionate way that Marc engages with the student body and his eccentric family. Tonally, the novel struggles, with the darkness of the teen’s death undercut by the comic relief that Marc’s relatives add to the plot, though the gnomelike antics of his grandfather are nevertheless quite entertaining. But there’s a real understanding of the social and emotional hierarchies of the young here—not just about bullies and cliques, but also the roles children take on in difficult times. This turns out to be a surprising and welcome addition to a competent mystery.
Struggles to balance the horrific with the humorous but finds fertile ground for a thriller in its portrayal of the intricacies of youth and the complexities of a small town in crisis.