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OBEDIENCE, Will Lavender’s debut novel, is a puzzle.
Three students at Indiana’s Winchester University are taking
a philosophy class --- Logic & Reasoning 204 --- and have been
given a very bizarre assignment from Professor Williams
(that’s Professor L. Williams to you). Before the end of the
term --- a scant six weeks --- they must locate a hypothetical
young girl named Polly. If they fail to do so, then she will be
murdered. Williams, slightly and indefinably but unquestionably
creepy, isn’t kidding around; he will guide the students
along, providing them with occasional clues that will either help
or mislead.

The makeup of the class is an interesting one. Brian House is a
somewhat abrasive lad, all sharp edges that conceal a deep sorrow
he doesn’t share with his classmates. Mary Butler is trying
to deal with the end of a love affair during her freshman year with
Dennis Flaherty, a button-down, coat-and-tie frat boy who happens
to be taking the class as well. Flaherty has a secret of his own
--- one that involves Elizabeth Orman, the wife of the Winchester
University dean, a woman with whom he is becoming slowly, surely
and unhealthily obsessed. And Orman? She might have the largest,
grandest secret of all.

Professor Williams’s assignment is tossed into this emotional
maelstrom. As Butler, House and Flaherty uneasily start to come
together to solve it, they begin to realize that the problem he has
tossed their way is based on a real-world mystery involving a young
girl who went missing some two decades ago. Furthermore, it seems
that Polly is far from a fictional character. The more information
they unearth, however, the more perplexing things become, until it
appears that Williams himself may be involved in the disappearance
and possible murder of an innocent --- and that history may well
repeat itself.

Lavender has crafted an infuriating, brilliant puzzle at the heart
of a novel that compels continuous, non-stop reading from beginning
to end to discover how everything winds up. Flaherty’s
infatuation with Orman is perfectly presented without falling into
the trap of stereotype --- every college campus has at least one
fetching professor’s wife, and a male student who would love
to take advantage of her --- and Butler’s unrequited and
unresolved yearning for Flaherty provides an additional unsettling
element to a book brimming over with them.

In addition, there are some literary references that, while not
exactly clues, will guide you in the right direction (maybe) and a
few hints here and there about the “why” of
what’s occurring in OBEDIENCE. And then there’s that

Don’t miss this intriguing and addicting psychological
thriller from a talented new writer worthy of our undivided

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 13, 2011

by Will Lavender

  • Publication Date: February 19, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Crown
  • ISBN-10: 030739610X
  • ISBN-13: 9780307396105