A high-profile murder unsettles a New England college town in this eventful second novel from Carter (Law/Yale; The Emperor of Ocean Park, 2002, etc.).
Economics professor and tireless lothario Kellen Zant, a charismatic black academic celebrity whose romantic conquests acknowledge no limits, is found dead on a remote back road. Suspicion falls among Zant’s former lovers and their mates, his colleagues and the wealthy clients who shelled out big bucks for his advice—and even the (unnamed) college’s president Lemaster Carlyle and his wife Julia (herself one of Zant’s former paramours). The Carlyles were minor figures in Carter’s debut novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park , but they occupy center stage in this beefy, neatly constructed melodrama, which distributes clues and juggles suspects with Grisham-like energy and efficiency. We’re briskly introduced to the insular little world of the campus, a racially and ethnically mixed utopia whose sleek occupants nevertheless have secrets aplenty to conceal. And Carter expands the novel’s scope with impressive assurance, as Zant’s murder is connected to another (ostensibly accidental) death; the surpassingly odd behavior of the Carlyles’ teenaged daughter Vanessa (who torches her dad’s Mercedes for no discernible reason); and the 30-year-old murder of a white woman student (with which Vanessa has become obsessed), shock waves from which may reach as far as the White House—presently occupied by Lemaster’s former college roommate. The embattled Julia Carlyle, a busy mother of four who’s also dean of the college’s divinity school, is obliged to perform some fairly intricate detective work of her own, as persons of interest and their histories glimpsed in old mirrors (a crucial clue) prove to be nearer than they appear.
An overload of exposition and a truckload of involved characters aside, this is a virtually irresistible—and highly intelligent—thriller. Carter strikes again.