Obedience by Will Lavender

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Obedience by Will Lavender

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Andrew Lawston
Reviewed by Andrew Lawston
Summary: An eccentric professor challenges his class to solve an imaginary mystery which threatens to become a real murder in this enjoyable thriller that carries just a little too much of a whiff of R L Stine's Point Horror novels.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: June 2008
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230700116

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In Winchester University, Indiana, a reclusive philosophy lecturer sets his class a bizarre challenge. Presenting them with the details of a local girl who has disappeared, he tells them they have six weeks to work out who abducted her, or she'll be murdered. On this bizarre note, he leaves them to it, providing them with additional clues and information as the lessons go on during the six weeks before the end of the semester.

Weirdness ensues in this paranoid thriller with academic overtones. Three of the students become obsessed with the mystery, and decide to devote their energies to solving it. Dennis is a confident ladies' man who has broken Mary's heart during an earlier fling two years previously. Brian is a nice chap with a dark side, tortured by the recent death of his brother. Mary herself is paranoid at the start of the novel and, as the class challenge becomes more and more reminiscent of the real disappearance of a girl called Deanna Ward twenty years previously, she unravels even further, convinced of a strange conspiracy preventing the three students from discovering the truth between the parallel mysteries.

It is hard to talk much about the book without giving away 'the terrifying truth'. Unfortunately, it's also quite hard to read the book without working out 'the terrifying truth'. Or perhaps that's just me. Essentially, Will Lavender's debut novel is an enjoyable psychological thriller with philosophical overtones about plucky kids solving a mystery. Its plausibility is strained, however, by the fact that you just can't have a chilling conspiracy where nothing is what it seems when you can just look people up on Facebook (as indeed the students frequently do during the course of the novel).

So although the three main students are well-rounded, solid and sympathetic characters, each with their own secrets and quirks, the basic flaws in the plot start to infect the whole work, and all the references to academia can't quite hide the fact that it all starts to turn into a bit of a Point Horror novel.

Once the link with teen horror novels is made, you can't quite shake it. You start to notice that beneath all the pretension of the college students, there's the very traditional triangle of the female hero in love with a bad boy, while at the same time getting closer to the nice boy who is, of course, the one she should be with. Then there's the odd awkward attempts at sex scenes, which seem to be conscious attempts to win the Bad Sex Prize.

As I can't imagine for a moment that the readership for this novel is likely to overlap with Stephen Fry's, I can say that anyone who's read The Liar will quickly realise what's happening in Obedience. The absurd blurb quote from Karin Slaughter reads: A taut and timely thriller that explores the dark side of academia, where classrooms are dangerous and paranoia abounds. I'm not at all sure what Slaughter meant by 'timely', but I'm afraid I can tell you all quite firmly that there is no dark side of academia, at least not of this kind. Classrooms are never dangerous and paranoia only abounds when you consistently get low marks.

All of this is a bit of a shame, as the standard of writing is basically quite high. My geography is too weak to know whether Winchester University is a real place or not, but the setting is full of gorgeous detail of the campus's history that really grounds the inquisitive students in a solid world. If the book's destination is at times a little obvious, it never fails to be an enjoyable journey.

Had Will Lavender chosen to set his novel just a little before the omnipresence of social networking sites and mobile phones, Obedience would have far fewer holes and would draw less attention to its extremely traditional (but still effective) characterisation.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book to anyone of around undergraduate age (eg, 18-22ish), particularly young people who used to enjoy the teen horror genre and would like a slightly more mature variant. Otherwise, Obedience is a solid debut which hopefully points the way to great future books from Will Lavender.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this type of book appeals to you then you might enjoy The Mark by Jason Pinter.

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Buy Obedience by Will Lavender at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Obedience by Will Lavender at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Obedience by Will Lavender at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Obedience by Will Lavender at Amazon.com.


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