The Spire by Richard North Patterson

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The Spire by Richard North Patterson

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Set on the campus of a small-town US college, what this well-written crime novel lacks in originality is more than offset by the fast pace and excellent story telling that will have you devouring the pages to find out how the story works out. With two crimes to solve and a love story to boot, this is an engaging and enjoyable read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: February 2010
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230705654

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When student Mark Darrow discovers the body of a black fellow student, Angela Hall, at the foot of the spire in the centre of the college he attends, he little suspects that his best friend will be charged with the murder. Now, sixteen years later, Darrow is back, at the invitation of his mentor and now college provost, Lionel Farr, to become president of the college in order to rebuild its reputation after a case of embezzlement has left the college in a precarious position (conveniently, Darrow has become an ace financial fraud lawyer in the intervening years). As Darrow digs into what happened with the college finances, he also begins to look afresh at the trial of his friend and questions if he really was guilty as charged. He also finds time to start an emerging relationship with the provost's troubled, but beautiful, daughter. Is the real killer still at large and are the two crimes connected?

Richard North Patterson began his publishing career with a number of excellent crime novels before more recently turning to court room style books (he is, after all, a former trial lawyer). In many ways this is something of a welcome return to his roots. Although, saying that, his protagonist is still a trial lawyer so we get something of a court room drama without the court room, if you see what I mean.

The Spire is a terrific read. It's a fast moving, well-written story that has that undeniable quality of making the reader want to read just a few more pages each time. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it's a very satisfying book.

However, if you are allergic to a lack of originality, this might be a book to avoid. For a start we are located in a small town US college where plenty of authors have gone before (and none so brilliantly as Donna Tartt's The Secret History in my view). Add to this other 'store cupboard' ingredients such as small town boy made good, a suggestion of racism, a love story, several dysfunctional families, a bit of psychoanalysis for the lead character, a splash of sexual deviancy and a game of both American Football and Baseball and you have the recipe for a comforting, warming meal, but hardly one to earn you a Michelin star. Personally, I don't mind that almost clichéd mix, but if that's a recipe that will drive you mad, then be warned.

I'm not sure I wholly bought into the likelihood of a financial crime lawyer being invited to run a college, but it's probably best to just accept that for the sake of the story. Neither was I particularly convinced that Darrow would have had quite such a lack of interest in his best friend's plight in prison during his heady years as a top lawyer - although he had other issues to deal with, including the death of his wife.

Perhaps more seriously potentially damaging to your enjoyment of this book is the lack of likely candidates for the crime. The cast of characters is relatively modest and I have to say that I guessed the identity of the villain of the piece very early on. But once again, I'd stress that this didn't affect my enjoyment of the book at all.

It's a great book to curl up with in front of the fire or would be an excellent holiday read if ever summer reappears.

Many thanks to Macmillan for inviting the Bookbag to review this book.

If you enjoy the college campus mystery style, check out The Sonnet Lover by Carol Goodman, or for a very different twist on the crime genre, I'd highly recommend Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn.

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