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by Will Lavender
Macmillan, June 2008
352 pages
12.99 GBP
ISBN: 023070011X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Will Lavender's debut novel OBEDIENCE has more than a whiff of THE SECRET HISTORY about it, albeit a rather low-budget one (we're not talking posh New England here).

A group of college students are set an exercise in their Logic and Reasoning class. They have just six weeks until the end of term to work out the mystery of a disappearing girl. If they don't solve it, she dies.

Most of the students are sceptical about the exercise and the enigmatic Professor Williams. But as three of the students Mary, Dennis and Brian start asking questions, they discover links with the unsolved disappearance of Deanna Ward 20 years previously.

For the first third to a half of the book, I was intrigued as to how Lavender was going to resolve the story. And he drummed up several suitably spooky scenes, including Mary's late-night internet session and phone call, and the party at Williams's house.

But from about half way the tension flagged quite markedly and the plot seemed to lose its way. And the characters really weren't compelling or likeable enough to demand sympathy or our attention. I dont necessarily have to like a character, but I do have to care about them. The three students came across as nave and strangely unquestioning in the circumstances. They never bond as a unit, and as a consequence the book reads like three satellites each in its own orbit.

The idea isn't bad at all, but OBEDIENCE is the kind of book where, if you're so minded, you can drive a coach and horses through the plot holes and there's a gaping one relating to research ethics. And I fail to believe that Williams would have remained so unknown in a small university.

Lavender raises some interesting questions about learning, how youngsters react to authority, and about what people can be made to believe. But sadly the finished product isn't compelling, realistic or clever enough to deliver what it promises.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, July 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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