In debut novelist Grindy’s mystery, a college professor plans to turn a student’s story idea into a best-seller of his own—but he gets sidetracked by a real-life death that’s shockingly similar to the one in his book.
After a decade teaching at Kickapoo Community College in Illinois, Henry Streator still hasn’t written his first novel. Recent circumstances have put the chances that he’ll even start his book at their absolute lowest. His wife, Roni, has left, and a former student in his creative-writing course has written a very popular book with a series deal and a movie option. Unfortunately, Streator’s inability to disguise his abhorrence for students and administration, as well as his general apathy (including skipping classes), may cause him to lose his tenured position. So his friend and dean, Loren Locke, recommends that he bolster his resume with a finished book. After tossing around some ideas, Streator locks onto one that his student Tarvis Conner had pitched to him before dying in a car accident. After subtly checking to see whether the student relayed the story to anyone else, Streator completes a full draft based on the unused idea. A literary agent and publishing imprint are soon interested, but then there’s a problem: a local man is found dead, frozen in ice—just like the corpse in Streator’s new novel (and Conner’s outline). Streator begins an investigation, starting with Conner, who seems to have predicted someone’s death. However, the professor soon finds himself immersed in a web of drugs, deceit, and murder, which may lead to his own demise.
Grindy’s tale is often wittily self-aware. Conner’s outline, for example, isn’t merely the source of Streator’s shady plan; it also foreshadows the professor’s own role as an amateur sleuth: “you’ve got to work real hard to give him some reason to be suspicious or involved,” Streator says to Conner early on about his proposed gumshoe. Streator, of course, certainly has a credible reason in trying to save his career. Grindy diligently manages to make his flawed protagonist sympathetic, despite his actions. For example, Streator is constantly reminded of his failures as a writer when people repeatedly mention the student-turned-best-selling author, and of his shortcomings as a husband, as he lives in an unfinished house that neither he nor Roni wanted. His investigation, meanwhile, is enjoyably convoluted; he knows virtually nothing about Conner, and as Streator questions people, it leads to new surprises. The settings are typically related in Grindy’s tongue-in-cheek style, as when Streator describes bored cops, whom he equates with “tobacco chewers taking turns hitting a spittoon beside them.” The mystery remains entertainingly unpredictable, as Streator’s investigation leads him to a meth lab and to an incident in the distant past. At one point, someone runs him off the road for, he presumes, “getting too close to the truth.” Best of all, some of his deductions miss the mark entirely, which is both realistic and hilarious.
An offbeat thriller with a greenhorn detective who categorically defies convention.