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by Vena Cork
Headline, December 2006
352 pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 075532398X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Rosa Thorn's family seem to have trouble following them. Her husband Rob was killed in a hit-and-run accident, her daughter was stalked, she fell foul of someone she counted as a friend, and now son Danny is deep in it.

Rosa, an actress, seems to be permanently resting, but this time around has a small part in a TV show to be filmed in Cambridge. So she sees it as an ideal opportunity to visit Danny and also her academic cousin Perry to whom she is particularly close.

Danny is a student at Cambridge University, studying at Billings College. The place is slightly more exotic than its name, which sounds like an American backwater! In fact, it's full of the usual students who seem to prefer drinking and partying to getting essays in on time, and stuffed shirt staff who know a cushy number when they see one.

Except, that is, for Dominic Tipton, the college chaplain. He's an intensive, driven, deeply religious man who believes he can juggle his academic commitments with running a homeless hostel in the city. Help arrives in the shape of his nephew Lucas.

Dom is being threatened, though, by the new Master, Hugo Mortimer, who has over-ambitious plans for the college and who believes the theology library is surplus to requirements. But someone has decided to make Hugo the focus of petty vandalism which then threatens to become serious.

Danny, meanwhile, has his own problems in this shape of clingy former girlfriend Julie, and his attraction to the enigmatic Stella, who draws men to her like wasps to a honeypot.

There's an even darker side to this academic melting pot, though, with the presence of a vicious rapist stalking the city, and then a murderer who kills at the college ball.

Phew, that's a lot more summary than I'd usually provide in a review, but Cork's books typically are super-duper busy with sub-plots proliferating.

The book suffers a little from shifting point of view, which weakens the tension in a couple of places. It might have worked better by limiting it to Rosa as the outsider and Danny who has to balance the ever-present tension between town and gown.

Cork has again gone for a smallish pool of characters. She draws flawed characters well selfish Perry and hideous mother Frankie and a handful of religious sorts who follow their faith blindly and unquestioningly.

This is again a strong book and a good page-turner. It would have benefited from a trimming back of the plot threads to ratchet up the tension the rapist angle never quite becomes as threatening as it could have done. But it's a book that delayed my bedtime rather seriously!

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, November 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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