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The Truants

Review

The Truants

Kate Weinberg makes no mystery of the fact that some elements of her debut novel, THE TRUANTS, are based in reality. There’s the real-life mystery of novelist Agatha Christie’s disappearance, a brief episode in the famous writer’s biography that’s never been fully explained but provides important context and thematic parallels to the book. Its university setting bears a great deal of resemblance to the University of East Anglia, where Weinberg studied fiction writing. And Lorna Clay, the professor at the heart of the story, is (as Weinberg confirms in her acknowledgments) based, in part, on UEA professor Lorna Sage.

Like any good novelist, Weinberg manages to take these real-world components and combine them into a rich narrative that’s thoroughly her own. In the case of THE TRUANTS, she creates a novel that is simultaneously a striking character study and a refreshingly modern-day homage to the work of Agatha Christie.

"...a novel that is simultaneously a striking character study and a refreshingly modern-day homage to the work of Agatha Christie."

Jess Walker, the narrator of THE TRUANTS, has selected her university and her course of study based almost entirely on her admiration for Professor Lorna Clay, whose own literary biography (also titled The Truants) made quite an impression on Jess. Although she fails to get into her preferred section, she’s assigned to Lorna’s Agatha Christie seminar, where she’s thrilled to discover that Lorna is just as charismatic and provocative as her writing had led Jess to hope.

But university is not just about what happens in the classroom, and even as Jess is navigating her way through Lorna’s seminars and tutorials, she’s building a tight-knit friendship group with two other students: the larger-than-life, gorgeous and impulsive but damaged Georgie, and kind, thoughtful Nick, who Jess is soon dating. But Jess can’t admit to anyone that the true object of her fascination is Georgie’s new boyfriend Alec, a South African journalist with whom she is immediately besotted. He’s gorgeous, mysterious and a brilliant storyteller --- but of course, as the object of Georgie’s affection, he’s completely off-limits.

When, however, it begins to seem that Jess’ infatuation with Alec is reciprocated, what happens next sets off a chain reaction of events that soon feels out of Jess’ control. Little does she know, though, that the web of secrets and deception is much wider and stickier than she could have imagined, with intricacies more than a little reminiscent of Christie herself.

THE TRUANTS accelerates as it goes, with the revelations barreling at a steady pace, especially toward the novel’s final third. It’s fortunate that they do, too, because otherwise the somewhat heavy-handed foreshadowing in the opening chapters would quickly grow frustrating. But Weinberg does eventually come through with the payoff she’s been promising, rewarding readers not only with a satisfying mystery but also with a portrait of a young woman forced to reevaluate her assumptions --- about friendship, literary brilliance and love.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 31, 2020

The Truants
by Kate Weinberg

  • Publication Date: January 28, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Literary, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 0525541969
  • ISBN-13: 9780525541967