The normally reliable Patterson (Eclipse, 2009, etc.) disappoints with this tale of a new college president who insists on putting an old murder at the top of his agenda.
Sixteen years ago, black scholarship student Angela Hall was murdered and her body dumped at the base of the bell tower that serves as the focal point of Caldwell College’s campus. Under pressure from college officials, the Wayne, Ohio, police promptly arrested football player Steve Tillman. The case was straightforward. Steve had gotten drunk after a Caldwell football victory; hooked up with Angela despite racist remarks he’d earlier made to her twin brother Carl; and passed out with scratch marks from her fingernails on his back and no memory of the rest of the night. Now Steve’s best friend, football hero Mark Darrow, has returned to Caldwell from his successful Boston criminal-law practice at the behest of his old mentor, Prof. Lionel Farr. Mark is taking over the college presidency from Clark Durbin, forced to resign ostensibly for health problems but actually for embezzling nearly $1 million, though Durbin insists he didn’t touch it. Accepting the job with due reticence, Mark soon finds himself confronted by exactly the sorts of problems you’d expect: a professor who needs an immediate leave to deal with her husband’s suicide, another accused of sexual harassment, a host of alumni who want to know why they should empty their pockets for a school with such a checkered history. So naturally he decides to focus his energies on falling in love with Farr’s daughter Taylor, ten years his junior, and on reopening the investigation of Angela’s murder despite the universal sense that there’s nothing to reopen.
It’s amazing that a pro like Patterson could have miscalculated so badly everything from the cluttered prologue, with its flashbacks within flashbacks, to the screamingly obvious identity of the villain to Mark’s dreamy-eyed behavior when he finally realizes who he’s up against. Wait till next year.