Fresh Blood

Name: Will Lavender

Title of Book: Obedience

'Obedience is a novel of suspense and is a fascinating journey of lies, half-truths, deception and blind alleys.'

It is the beginning of the fall term at Winchester University. The students attending the Logic and Reasoning 204 course are in for a shock. Their tutor, Professor Williams, has a very unusual way of presenting their course work. He gives the class a scenario of a young girl called Polly who has been kidnapped. The class have six weeks to find her. If they don’t - she will be murdered. With the promise of emails later that day, the Professor has gone. The first class only lasts ten minutes.

To begin, the students think it is a puzzle from the mind of an eccentric teacher. However, as three of the students start to dig a little deeper they find similarities to a case from twenty years ago when a girl named Deanna Ward disappeared without trace. Soon they are very wary of the people who are involved with this new case and the old one, too. Who is telling the truth and who is just plain false? As they travel through the labyrinth of lies and half truths they wonder if they are being deliberately led down a path that can only have terrible consequences - especially for Polly - as time is running out fast.

From the moment Professor Williams makes his strange announcement I was sucked into the plot of Obedience - the facts given out without delay – yet I had a feeling that there was going to be much more before we arrived at the solution.

Obedience is a novel of suspense and is a fascinating journey of lies, half-truths, deception and blind alleys. It is one of those novels where you think you have finally nailed the solution, only to find the whole thing is thrown back up in the air and lands back down in a different order. I suggest you take close note of all that is going on as it all has some relevance to the story.

Lavender has written a tight thriller that is much more than a ‘hold on to your hats’ chase. There is an underlying depth to this novel that is shown at the end, and it certainly makes the reader ponder a few of the issues raised. Even a few days after finishing details still pop up in your mind as the puzzle is still unconsciously slotting into place. As a fan, reading - and reviewing - many, many crime novels it is a pleasure to discover a book that goes out of its way to try something different and really make the reader think. Will Lavender has done this with Obedience – he’s stretched the boundaries of the genre yet further, and its all the better for it.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
This book was actually my first foray into “genre," although I’ve been reading crime novels and thrillers for years. In college and grad school I wrote nothing but literary works, small blips about...nothing. They were mostly thought experiments. Although I’m glad I have moved on to something with a little more cultural relevance (and commercial relevance at that), I do think OBEDIENCE has a lot of those experimental trappings. I basically want to write the kinds of crime books no one else is writing, the kinds of novels no one else has seen. That comes from my interest in a type of literature that is inherently against the grain.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I prefer standalones, but I do read quite a few series novels. I think standalones are becoming a rarity in the genre, which is unfortunate. There’s something to be said about books that are so cyclical they absolutely cannot have a sequel.
3) Your novel is set in Winchester University. What made you decide on this environment and how integral was that decision to the plot?
The college is almost a mirror of the school I went to here in Kentucky. And the environment is absolutely integral, because what I was attempting to do was create a kind of locked room puzzle mystery.There is no better, more literal locked room than a college campus. Think about how many secrets and lies are trapped in those places. They are like small towns, and then of course you have the added ingredient of competition and academic inquiry. They’re fertile grounds for crime writers, and of course there’s a huge tradition in the UK where writers have gone back to that well again and again.
4) The story constantly seems to ask “who can you believe” about key characters, with the students being led - and often misled - down different paths. Does this sense of uncertainty and paranoia interest you particularly?
Yes. Absolutely. And what’s strange is that I am not a paranoid person. I do not believe in any far-flung government conspiracies or anything like that. But as a trope for suspense fiction, it can work quite well.
5) One of the main protagonists, Mary, is reading Paul Auster’s book ‘City of Glass’ from the ‘New York Trilogy’. There are obvious parallels between your story and that story, dealing with existentialism and obsession. What made you choose to pursue this clear connection?
The most obvious reason is that I read “City of Glass” as an undergrad and had it had quite an effect on me. The second reason is that “City” gets to questions of identity. Who is who. Who is real. What is real. That’s a major question in OBEDIENCE, and so I wanted to explore it further through one of my main characters. Things get so jumbled in “City” that the reader is left to wonder if anything at all is real. That kind of paranoia is the height of what you can do with this particular kind of novel, and so I strove for that.
6) The task of finding Polly was given to the whole class. Why did you then focus on just three students?
I do not like ensemble novels. I’m not even big on novels that switch POV every chapter, yet I do that to some extent with this book. One thing that turns me off when I read a dust flap is some description of a sweeping environment (normally these books are set over many decades) with many different characters. Of course Robert Altman could pull this off on film, but I’m not really keen on books like that. You have to be a very fine craftsman to pull that off well in literature, and I’m not one of those. I like more simple, more streamlined, shorter works. The kinds of novels that follow just one or two characters to the end. So I chose three characters and went with that.
7) Do you have any particular insight or inside knowledge of academic environments?
I was an adjunct professor for six years. As an adjunct you do not come into contact with the higher-ups that often. At least I didn’t. I tried, but to not avail. The education you get has to do with students. You come to see that students will often do anything you ask them to do, believe anything you say. They want that A so badly. I wondered about a situation where I could walk into a classroom and tell the students that there had been a kidnapping that might result in murder. Wondered if they would follow along, get absorbed in the story as if it were a text from our syllabus. That’s where the idea for OBEDIENCE came from—this notion that students are painfully obedient to a professor’s influence and authority.
8) This is your first book. Have you always written, and how difficult was it to get the book as seen to the stage where you were happy with the finished product?
Yes, I have always wanted to be a writer. And it was very difficult to get the book to a point where we (we being my editor and I) were happy with it, because I found I have very little common sense. I wrote the novel with no outline, no notes, and as you can see it’s a headtrippy, labyrinthine tale. It wasn’t easy at all to tie up all the loose ends that were present in my first draft.
9) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or another by another author - included your favorite plot twist of all time?
Great question. The twist at the end of Dennis Lehane’s SHUTTER ISLAND is great. You know, when we find out that...
10) What is your favorite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
I really liked the recent adaptation of Lehane’s GONE BABY GONE. I actually liked it better than MYSTIC RIVER. Even though the female lead was completely changed to make room for Affleck, the way the filmmakers used Boston and the heartwrenching morality that underlies the film are both very well-played. And the ending was so unusual for most Hollywood stuff.
11) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
Definitely a crime fiction fan. I like Michael Connelly a lot, and Ken Bruen, and of course Lee Child. I tend to like those damaged men who are out searching for blood all the time.
12) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
Peter Abrahams’ OBLIVION. The way the author subverts the genre and pays homage to it at the same time is brilliant. It’s like a PI novel with teeth.