Cover (Danced by the Light of the Moon, 2013) offers a thriller about a college professor whose career and life are threatened when he learns about his university’s acceptance of shady donations.
Thomas Simpson is an associate professor of communications at Sessions University, where his best friend, Zoltan Vastag, is a senior cancer researcher. One night at the university’s faculty club they encounter Frank Lusby, the chief consultant of university president Bryan Q. Fitz-Hugh’s Campaign for Progress. He asks Thomas, “If you had one word of advice for the president, what would it be?” Thomas suggests that Fitz-Hugh should use podcasts and printed think pieces to inform his constituency about the campaign, which aims, among other goals, to make Sessions energy self-sufficient within five years. Lusby then invites Thomas and Zoltan to a campus reception, where they meet free-spirited billionaire Mark Berger, who’s on Sessions’ board of trustees. Berger quickly takes a liking to Thomas, and Lusby later suggests Thomas parlay the relationship into a donation to the campaign. Fitz-Hugh has already secured millions for the Beijing Center, which is integral to placing Sessions on the global stage. But when Thomas eventually learns the reality behind Fitz-Hugh's campaign, he’s already in too deep, thanks in part to the seductive Ursula Mueller, who works at the university. In this novel, Cover effectively portrays the struggle of many American professionals trying to balance life at work and at home. To that end, Thomas’ family members are well-developed: 15-year-old daughter Sarah is brilliant but bored in high school; his younger son, Tommie, has a developmental disorder that he and his psychologist wife, Janet, are reluctant to label. Cover also interestingly parallels Tommie’s obsession with loud, shiny firetrucks and Thomas’ entanglements in Fitz-Hugh’s machinations. Thomas isn’t a very sympathetic narrator, though, as he easily glides into an affair with Ursula and smugly describes his wife on the couch as reading “the latest deep and meaningful historical novel selected by her book club.” Overall, however, the narrative’s modest pace and eerie plausibility succeed.
A slow-burning thriller that reveals the seedy politics of higher learning in America.