Monday, April 6, 2009

Clever contrivance of an evening (Books - Obedience by Will Lavender and Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski)

Will Lavender's Obedience turned out to offer some surprises. Without giving anything away, a few undergraduates take a logic class in which the teacher has set up the hypothetical disappearance of a girl who, if the class cannot discover her whereabouts, will be murdered by a certain date. The opening chapters featured lackluster writing - too much telling and not enough showing:
His real name was Dennis Flaherty, but on campus he was jokingly called Dennis the Menace, which was irony in the highest degree: Dennis would not menace anyone even if he deserved it...The answer was charm. Dennis had it in spades. He could talk himself out of of any lie, any malfeasance, and yet the same skill allowed him to talk himself into situations as well.
This self-conscious, over-familiar voice-over approach at the start really took my interest too much for granted - 'irony?' Huh? In addition, the students were meant to use logic to solve the mystery but they never really learned anything at all - it just seemed as though their teacher baldly manipulated them. Sending the students clues by email, inviting them to parties where they are handed cryptic notes. There was way too much implausible contrivance in the plotting at the story's start. I cannot think of any school in our security-happy, accountability-hysterical world that would allow these events to happen on a college campus. However, the mystery pulls the students in and with only two weeks left to term, they find themselves believing that nearly everyone around them is in on the plot. As one of the three main young characters says to herself at one point, "everything means something." At the same point, I discovered that I was trying to solve the mystery myself. If you know of the infamous psychologist Stanley Milgram, who figures prominently in the plot, at least part of the mystery will be obvious however, that still leaves you trying to figure out who is doing what to whom and for what reason, and that kept me reading with interest until the end. Obedience ends up being a complex and clever little mystery and even if it doesn't quite cast the commanding spell that The Secret History did, it was certainly a good evening's entertainment.

I have now also begun Marghanita Laski's Little Boy Lost. The writing is lovely - straightforward, instantly placing me somewhere and at some particular time. Only 30 pages in, I am completely swept up in Hilary's search for his lost son. I am looking forward to reading this one.

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