Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obedience, by Will Lavender

From the back cover:

The beginning of the fall term at Winchester University in rural Indiana. On the first day of class Professor Williams presents a startling scenario to the students in his Logic and Reasoning 204 course: a young girl has gone missing and the class has until the end of the quarter to find her or she will be murdered.

The students believe Williams’s tale is nothing more than a logic puzzle, but soon three of them – Mary, Brian and Dennis – stumble upon a real-life, unsolved disappearance that sounds eerily similar to the one Williams described, the case of Deanna Ward, a girl who went missing twenty years earlier and was never found. Each of them becomes obsessed with the two women and with the professor, himself a shadowy figure. As the real world and Williams’s puzzle begin to merge, the three young people are thrown into a complex and horrifying game of deception. What’s real? What’s fiction? And how far will the students go to obey authority?

I’d been looking for this book in paperback for months, after reading a review, and it didn’t disappoint. A five hour train journey after buying it, and the only reason I hadn’t finished was because it got dark. I just couldn’t make myself put it down before that.

After the prologue, the book begins with the ominous heading ‘SIX WEEKS LEFT’. As the book goes on, these headings help increase the ever-present tension: moving from weeks into days, then finally hours. The mystery is introduced straight away: it turns out that no one has any idea what their new professor, Mr Williams, looks like – he’s somehow missing from the yearbooks, despite his name being mentioned, and the website shows only his brief CV, while the box for the photo is gray and blank. The three main characters are quickly introduced in Williams’s first class, where they are both puzzled and intrigued by the scenario he describes. The first couple of chapters follow the three students through their early classes with Williams, and we quickly learn that they have secrets of their own, some that they conceal from their friends, and others that are hinted at but left for the reader to guess about.

I think it’s very hard to talk about this book, to describe it, because there are so many twists. There is so much information that is ever so slowly revealed over the course of the story, and a lot of what Dennis, Mary and Brian are discovering throws what they’ve already learnt into question. Who can they trust? Who should they believe? It is clear that someone is lying, but whether that is the Professor himself, about who Polly is, or Orman, the dean, who claims Williams is a plagiarist, and a liar obsessed with a long-ago crime? The evidence seems to make the issue of who to believe swing back and forth between the two. But then it starts to seem like the students are being pointed in certain directions, herded to exactly the places where someone wants them to go. And the deeper they go, the darker things get.

I love how the narrative switches from one character’s point of view to the other – all three of the students have very well-defined personalities, and it adds to the general confusion that the reader never gets to see all of what is going on. Like the characters, I was hooked on finding the answer, and trying to work out what was a prop and what was real.

It was a fascinating read, with a shocking conclusion. I definitely have to re-read, knowing what's happening, to see how different it seems. If you want a book to keep you up past our bed time, and make you give strange teachers a second look, then this is definitely one for you.

Overall rating? 8 stars, I think.

Will Lavender has very kindly agreed to do an interview for us here at the Book Bundle! That will probably go up sometime next week. If anyone has any questions they'd like to ask, please leave them in the comments.


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