Dead Docket

Dead Docket

3.8 19
by Mitchell Graham

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A young woman is killed in an “accident” and our heroes are on the trail to discover what really happened. Danger, mystery, and romance abound in this sequel to Majestic Descending


A young woman is killed in an “accident” and our heroes are on the trail to discover what really happened. Danger, mystery, and romance abound in this sequel to Majestic Descending

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Majestic Descending

“Crisply written…strong characterizations propel the story…a most successful debut.”—Booklist

“Fluent prose, smooth pacing, and an engaging protagonist make this narrative shine. The sex and violence are muted but still effective while the whodunit payoff is a real corker.”—Mystery Scene

“Graham writes a good courtroom scene and the sinking of the Majestic is exciting.”—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly

In Graham's muddled second legal thriller to feature John Delaney and Katherine Adams (after Majestic Descending), Delaney, a New York City law professor, welcomes the opportunity to visit Adams, his long-distance lover, in Atlanta, even if the occasion is a melancholy one. Delaney has agreed to resolve the estate of Sarah O'Connor, a former law student and the daughter of his father's partner in the NYPD, who fell to her death off a cliff one night while camping in Cloudland Canyon in north Georgia. This routine assignment turns into anything but after Delaney learns O'Connor apparently stole a file from the federal prosecutor's office where she worked as a summer intern that implicated a major-league bad guy. Improbable action sequences (e.g., a trained psycho killer turns his back on Adams with fatal results) and unconvincing court scenes add up to a subpar effort. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
Two lawyers take on an estate case that leads to a dangerous game of cat and mouse. Former NYPD detective John Delaney, now a law professor, is in Atlanta to settle the estate of his late father's police partner's daughter Sarah O'Connor, who was killed in a fall. The trip is almost a vacation for John, whose lover, Atlanta-based lawyer Katherine Adams (Majestic Descending, 2007), is on hand to help him with local knowledge. After realizing that Sarah's apartment has been searched, John discovers a cache of porn films of Sarah and her boyfriend Andre Rostov and follows a trail of well-hidden clues to the discovery that she isn't dead after all. The FBI is just as interested in Sarah. They'd like to know what she did with a file she took while working as an intern for the U.S. Attorney's office. The file contains evidence that might convict crime boss Warren Blendel, who's already sent his henchman Hans Schiller and psychopathic killer Joshua to Atlanta to find the file and clean up any loose ends. After John and Katherine find Sarah hiding with Andre's sister, the three women head for a safe house in Florida while John goes to New York in search of answers. As John is discovering that the file exposes the car accident that killed his father as murder, the Florida trip leads to a nightmare chase through a swamp. Years of cover-ups are exposed in a tense New York courtroom. An edgy Spenseresque thriller that's hard to put down.

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.29(d)

Read an Excerpt

Dead Docket

By Mitchell Graham

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2009 The Literacy Ladder Foundation, LLC
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5968-1



The telephone startled me when it rang. I was in the process of rereading a student's answer to my evidence exam and it still made no sense. I tossed the paper down and pressed the intercom button.


"Professor Delaney, there's a police officer and another gentleman here to see you," my secretary said.


"Yes, sir," Maria continued. "They'd like to know if you have a moment. I explained we're in the middle of exams week and that you're very busy."

The underlying message was that neither had an appointment. Subtlety and Maria do not often appear in the same sentence together. She's a good secretary, very good as a matter of fact, but she tends to be overprotective, at least where I'm concerned. One of her talents is deflecting unannounced visitors, which she was trying to do now. My lioness at the gate.

Dropping by without an appointment isn't kosher in Maria's view. Somehow it offends her sense of propriety. This is all the more true when exams roll around and our faculty is under pressure to get their grades in on time. The last thing we'd want is to delay dumping another batch of lawyers on the world.

I could have asked whoever was outside to come back later, but being a former cop, I tend to make allowances. There's no law that says I have to, but the fraternity is a small one and I'm not that far removed from it.

"No problem," I replied. "I'll be right out."

A number of colleagues have jumped on me for doing this. In their view it's more dignified to have your secretary show people in, as opposed to a professor going out to get them. It's a needless pretense, but to each his own.

The police officer and his companion were sitting side by side on our reception room couch when I came through the door. They both stood up at the same time. I recognized them immediately.

Frank O'Connor shook my hand and following it with a hug. So did his brother, Nick. Twenty years earlier, Frank had been my father's partner — that is, until a drunk driver on the Cross Bronx Expressway ended their relationship. The driver crossed the centerline and slammed into my dad's car, killing him.

I hadn't seen much of the O'Connors over the past year. Every now and then we would run into each other, but our relationship wasn't what you'd call close anymore. From the street clothes and the chest holster peeking out from under his suit jacket, I guessed that Frank still carried a detective's shield. Nick, the man in uniform, held the rank of deputy chief with the department and presided over Manhattan South.

"Well, this is an unexpected surprise. What's up, fellas?"

"We just stopped by to talk if you have a minute," Frank said.

I didn't, but I told them it was no problem.

I noted their expressions were uncharacteristically somber, indicating the visit was something more than just social. At the same time I also noticed that Frank hadn't shaved. He looked about a half day beyond a five o'clock shadow, which was unusual from what I remembered of the man.

"Maria ... this is Frank and Nick O'Connor. Frank and my dad were partners."

"Oh, pleased to meet you," Maria said, warming a little. "You should have told me you knew Professor Delaney."

"Sorry," Frank said. "Pleased to meet you, too, ma'am."

Nick responded in a similar manner. Since everyone was pleased to meet each other, I motioned for them to follow me into my office.

"How about some coffee?" I asked before we left the reception area.

"Sure, Johnny, if it wouldn't be too much trouble," Frank said.

Nick passed. Maria was out of her chair in a flash and beat me to the pot before I could reach it. "I'll bring it in, Professor," she said. "How do you take it, Officer?"

"A little milk and sugar, please."

"She probably saved your life," I told Frank. "I'm not known for my coffee skills around here."

By professorial standards, my office isn't large. This is because I'm relatively new to John Jay's faculty, having only taught at the law college for the past eight years. We have an unwritten rule that says the longer you stay, the bigger your office. It's pretty much the same in most places: you pay your dues and move up the pecking order. My room is about twelve feet square and contains a desk and two wooden chairs for guests. I also have a leather couch, which was unusable at the moment since it was piled high with ungraded exam papers. I pointed Frank and Nick to the chairs.

Opposite the couch is a bookshelf lined with copies of the United States Code and the New York State Statutes. If you look closely, you'll also see a number of texts on evidence and forensic studies, the subjects I teach.

I sat on the front edge of my desk rather than behind it, and we made small talk until Maria showed up with the coffee. After handing Frank his cup, she gave me a knowing sort of look and said she would hold my calls. Apparently I wasn't the only one blessed with intuition.

"So, how can I help you?" I asked when the door closed.

Frank took a deep breath and let it out. "John, Sarah was killed in a camping accident last week."

My stomach dropped several inches at the words. Sarah was Frank's daughter and had been in my evidence class the preceding year. She was a bright, decent kid with a bubbly personality. When the term ended, she had transferred to Emory University's law school in Atlanta.

"Jesus Christ, Frank. I'm so sorry. How did it happen?"

"She, uh ..."

Frank's voice faltered and he looked out the window. His brother placed a consoling hand on his back and finished the sentence for him.

"Sarah and some friends were camping at a place called Cloudland Canyon. It's somewhere in north Georgia. The sheriff's department told us that she was out walking at night and went over a cliff."

I was taken aback by the news and shook my head in disbelief. What do you say in a situation like that? What does anyone say? A lawyer's stock-in-trade are his words and I searched for the right ones, but all I could manage was to repeat how sorry I was. It wasn't much, but it was true. I'd always liked Sarah.

"Look, if there's anything I can do ..."

"Yeah," Frank said. His eyes were red-rimmed when he turned back to me. "Lucille would have come too," he explained, "but she's still pretty broken up. You understand."

"Sure, sure," I said quickly. "She wouldn't be human if she wasn't." Lucille was Frank's wife. "The last I heard, Sarah got some sort of scholarship, isn't that right?"

It was small talk and I was just trying to relieve the awkwardness of the moment.

Frank nodded. He was a big man in his late fifties, still hard and fit, the old school pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps type.

"It's called the Hoch-Halpern Endowment. Sarah applied for it the end of last term. We wanted her to stay in New York of course, but law school tuition can get pretty steep. I guess you know that."

"I meant what I said, Frank. If there's anything I can do for you or the family, just ask."

The brothers looked at each other and I saw a silent communication pass between them.

"Johnny, we haven't had a lot of contact with lawyers over the years," Nick said. "Mike Franklin at the Forty-third suggested we give you a call. He said you'd know what to do as far as the legal stuff is concerned. We don't have a clue where to start. Sarah was a real fan of yours. It was always Professor Delaney this and Professor Delaney that. She ... she was so excited about studying law."

Like his brother, Nick broke off what he was saying and stared down at his feet until he composed himself. I could see they were both having a rough time and my heart went out to them. The reason for their visit was now obvious. It wasn't that I was close to the O'Connors. I wasn't. After I retired from the force and went over to the dark side, as they say, we'd only seen each other sporadically. The word retired is being used tongue in cheek here. Truth is, my retirement was hastened by three bullets I took to the chest, but that's another story. The bottom line is that cops stick with cops. It's pretty much like having an extended family.

"No problem," I heard myself say. "I'll be happy to look into it, though you need to understand I'm not an expert in this area of the law. We might need to retain an estate attorney if it's over my head. You said Sarah died in Georgia?"

"Right," Frank said. "Does that make a difference?"

"It could, particularly if she established residence there. I'll check and find out. Do either of you know if she had a will?"

Frank shrugged. "I'm not sure. Isn't that something all law students do?"

"Not quite." I smiled. "It's a fifty-fifty shot at best. Maybe not even that good. A lot depends on whether she did or didn't. I have a friend who practices law in Atlanta. Is it all right if I give her a call and get some advice on the best way to proceed?"

"No problem," Frank said. "We'll put the whole thing in your hands. Just keep us informed." He paused for a moment and looked as if he were searching for the right words. "Listen Johnny, I don't have a lot of money, but if you tell me what this'll cost, I'll write out a check."

I waved him off when he took out his checkbook. Unwritten rule one: You don't charge partners when they ask for help. Unwritten rule two: Rule one applies to your father's partners.

"We can talk about that later. Right now, I don't even know if I can help. Like I said, this isn't my area of expertise. If the situation's good I'll tell you and if it's bad I'll tell you. Either way you'll have the truth, okay?"

"Okay," Frank replied.

I moved a pile of test papers on my desk aside and grabbed a yellow legal pad. "I'd better take down some basic information."

I asked the brothers to provide me with Sarah's social security number, copies of her birth certificate, and her driver's license.

To be honest, I wasn't happy about having the problem dumped in my lap. I'm not proud to say that. It was a headache I didn't need just then, plus I was out of my depth. As a general rule, I don't jump into a situation unless I know what I'm letting myself in for. But I'd made the offer and we had history together. After twenty minutes I exhausted most of what I remembered regarding wills and estates, which wasn't all that extensive. Good-byes were said and I promised to get in touch with them as soon as I had more information.



When they were gone, my thoughts turned to Sarah O'Connor. She had been a standout in our school — a girl with brains, looks, and a decent personality. I remembered how hard she had worked in my class, never once playing the old-friend-of-the-family card. I respected her for that, and the A she made was strictly on her own. For her to die so young and so senselessly was a shock.

I sat back in my chair and rubbed my face with my hands, then picked up the phone and punched a button on the intercom. I have one of those twenty-button sets. Somewhere along the line, the insert that listed the numbers for the other teachers in my department had disappeared from the base unit and maintenance had never gotten around to replacing it. I held my breath as the phone rang.

"Yes?" a voice answered.

"Irwin, it's John. Do you have a minute?"

"Of course. What can I do for you?"

"I need to see you about a problem. Is now a good time?"


Irwin Zeller is a slightly built man with a head of curly brown hair. He had recently turned fifty and he was six years my senior. He had been teaching law at John Jay for the past two decades. The owlish appearance he projected was accentuated by a pair of thick glasses and a tendency to blink when he was considering a problem. Several years earlier, when my predecessor unexpectedly died of a heart attack, Irwin was the one who recommended me for the teaching position I now hold.

His office was more opulent than mine. A pair of oriental rugs divided the room into a work area and a visitor's area. A burgundy leather couch with rolled arms sat along the left wall and looked dignified against the wood paneling.

"It's open," Irwin called out when I knocked.

I came in and we shook hands.

"Am I catching you at a bad time?"

"Not at all. I'm just working on an appellate brief for Maybery, Halter, and Troutman, but it's not due until later this week. What's the problem?"

My eyes traveled to a pile of papers stacked on an old-fashioned rolltop desk, roughly twice the size of mine. Irwin's window faces the school's quadrangle. Mine faces a brick wall.

I took a few minutes to bring my friend up to speed on the situation with Sarah O'Connor. While I was speaking, Irwin got up and walked over to a bookcase with a glass enclosure, removed a copy of our school's yearbook, and began flipping through it. He located the part that contained photographs of last year's freshman class and ran his finger down the page until he came to Sarah's picture.

"Awful," he said, shaking his head. "Just awful. I don't think she was in any of my classes. She was certainly an attractive girl."

He turned the book around so I could see. Sarah's large brown eyes stared back at me. It was the kind of face the camera loved, as photographers say.

I nodded my agreement. "Her family's pretty broken up."

Irwin shook his head again in sympathy. "What a shame. So ... I'm guessing they've asked you to probate her will?"

"Assuming she has one. The problem is, I've never done a will probate before. That's why I'm here. I need to see what I've let myself in for."

"It's all pretty boilerplate. I've got everything you'll need."

Irwin went to a filing cabinet at the corner of the room and retrieved three eight-by-ten manila envelopes.

"This is to probate a will with assets under five thousand dollars," he said, handing me the first envelope. "You'll find all the forms there."

I hefted it a couple of times and looked at him.

"Each one has a set of instructions," he continued. "I don't know how much money the girl had, but I can't imagine a law student's estate being very large."

He handed me the second envelope.

"On the chance that it's over five thousand dollars, you'll use these forms. They're for standard estates. This last package contains an application for Letters of Administration, if she died without a will."

"Pretty impressive, Irwin. I have trouble finding my car keys."

"Part of the advantage of doing this for twenty years," he said with a smile. "I'll be tied up on this brief until Thursday. If you get bogged down, call me and I'll try to guide you through the maze."

"I will. Looks like I've got my homework for the evening."

"It's not that hard, John. Why don't you stop by for dinner and we'll spend a little time going through everything? Charlotte's cooking a pot roast and she always makes more than we can eat."

Irwin was a good man, but I'd already imposed enough; plus there was still that pile of test papers waiting for me back in my office.

"Thanks, I'll take a rain check. If I don't get my exams in by Monday, Babs Ramsey will have my head on a platter. Now I have this to deal with," I said, indicating the envelopes he had just given me.

"Well, it's nice of you to help," he said, patting me on the arm. "Not to add to your workload, but here's something else you might want to glance over."

Irwin pulled a paperbound book off one of his shelves and handed it to me.

"I put this together two years ago, for one of the Bar's continuing education seminars. The law hasn't changed. It will take you through the steps one by one."

"Probate for Dummies," I said, pretending to read the title.

Irwin smiled and adjusted his glasses. "The first thing you should do is inventory the girl's possessions and secure them."

I glanced at the book again. It was about three inches thick. The spine was held together by a plastic fastener.

"Thanks, buddy. I'll give you a call after I get lost."

"Unlikely. You're much too methodical a fellow, John. I wish more of our colleagues were."

With a little help from Maria, I scrounged up a cardboard box and piled my exams into it. Irwin's book went on top along with the three packages he had given me. My agenda for the weekend was now set, so I said good-bye and headed for the teacher's parking lot on Twelfth Avenue.


Excerpted from Dead Docket by Mitchell Graham. Copyright © 2009 The Literacy Ladder Foundation, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Mitchell Graham attended college at The Ohio State University on a fencing scholarship and later when on to earn a law degree. After practicing law for twenty years he went back to school to study neuropsychology. He has represented the United States many times in international fencing competitions and along the way has won or placed in the finals of over eighty-three separate tournaments. He lives in Marietta, Georgia.

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Dead Docket 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Library_Lady More than 1 year ago
This was a fun book to read. I finished it in about two days. Be warned, once you start it's really hard to put down. It was the same way with the first book in the series. I really enjoy the author's style of writing which is not overly descriptive nor flowery. Unlike some, he tends to treat readers as if they had some intelligence. The story had humor, tension, and strong interplay between the characters. I was sold after the prologue and stayed that way until the end.
Book_Gal More than 1 year ago
I generally enjoy a good mystery and this was no exception. I felt the character of Katherine Adams was a lot of fun and easy to relate to. There are so many twists and turns in the plot, sometimes I had to stop and think where I was, but it all came together nicely. I understand that this is actually the second book author Graham has published with the two lead characters. They make a great team and I'm hoping the author will write more. I'm heading off to the store now to get his first book!
Carolyn_K More than 1 year ago
I took Mitchell Graham's last book, Majestic Descending, on a cruise and could not put it down. I literally ran to the store to buy the follow-up the day it was released, Dead Docket, and was not disappointed. This time Delaney (an ex-cop turned lawyer) carries the story and it twists and turns keeping you on edge until the end. Graham's humor is subtle but flows throughout. I felt this was even faster paced than Majestic Descending. There is something in this for everyone - romance, suspense and courtroom drama. I can't wait for his next book.
Mystery_Mogul More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Dead Docket is Mitchell Graham's sequel to Majestic Descending which came out last year. The author has an excellent, distinctive style and the characters are enjoyable. I felt the plot twists were well thought out and the courtroom scenes were quite realistic. It's always a treat to me when one character isn't "on stage" all the time. Mr. Graham trades off nicely between Katherine Adams and her beau John Delaney, an ex-NY cop turned attorney. I would have no trouble recommending this book. Job well done!
Fussy_Mystery_Critic More than 1 year ago
This book was a quick, fun read with an intelligently done plot line. I enjoyed the dialogue and the character of John Delaney a great deal. HE reminds me a Robert Parker's Spencer. I'm a big fan of legal/courtroom thrillers and Dead Docket is one of the better ones I've come across. Two other members of our book club picked it up when I did and the feedback has been consistent. Definitely a solid interesting book to spend a little time with.
Review_guy More than 1 year ago
Solid characters, an inventive story line, and good courtroom action make this a good choice for anyone who is a fan of mysteries. One of the clerks at Barnes & Noble suggested it. I'm glad she did.
showlai More than 1 year ago
I borrowed this book from my girlfriend and got into it quickly. The author's style is fluid and easy to read. The plot took several surprise turns, which I liked very much. In other words I didn't find it predictable or formulaic. I really don't agree with the reviewer who said the story seemed like it was "mailed in." I didn't feel that way at all. The action sequences were exciting and well done as was the trial. I've worked in the Cleveland court system for fifteen years and I can say with some assurance it was pretty accurate. One of the things I generally look for in a novel is solid characterizations and I wasn't disappointed. I would have liked to see a bit more of Katherine Adams however. She's not only whip smart, but funny. She and John Delaney, an ex-New York homicide detective, turned lawyer make a great pair. I hope the author writes more about these two. This book was a pleasant surprise.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I heard about this author from friends who know that this book is the sequel to "Majestic Descending" and is currently in production to become one of two Bruce Willis movies, the first coming out in July 2011, so I had to read it. I was up all night reading Majestic, then within five minutes, I literally put on my shoes to drive to the book store to purchase "Dead Docket". I finished it the next day. That's how good these two books are. I really cannot remember being so happy about time spent with a modern day mystery in quite some time. Thank you, Mitchell Graham! The plots and characters in both of these books are AWESOME! You really will be stunned by the endings and this author is hopefully going to be translated into terrific new movie thrillers -- everything a writer, director and actor could possible hope for is in these books, so I hope they don't mess it up. Regardless, it is always a joy to find a fresh new voice that isn't the usual formula so many of the big name writers keep churning out in what seem to be a never ending pipeline of the same old, same old. Finally a work of original ideas that rolls along really fast and smooth. Graham puts the twist and turn back into this genre and I loved every minute of it. Both are must reads which you don't have to read in order, but if you read one you will want to read the other. Either way, you'll thank me if you aren't too tired after staying up all night -- twice! I'd strongly recommend starting it on a Saturday morning...
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Mark_JT More than 1 year ago
I read Graham's Majestic Descending about two years ago and really enjoyed it. In my opinion he writes as well as Grisham and Coben,who are two of my favorites. When his father's ex-partner comes to him and asks him to travel to Georgia to settle his daughter's estate, John Delaney doesn't want to do it, but reluctantly agrees. Being a former cop, Delaney is motivated by a sense of loyalty. The trip will also give him an opportunity to see Katherine Adams, the lady he's been dating for the last year. Katherine was the heroine of Majestic Descending, a crackling page-turner of a novel, mentioned above. While gathering up the girl's possessions the pair come across a box of porn tapes that feature the dead girl. Delaney is stunned by the discovery begins to investigate. Little by little he comes to the conclusion the girl might not be dead. In this book nothing is as it seems. Every time you think you have a handle on the ending Graham throws another twist at you. I found this story to be an easy read and well paced. It held my interest all the way through. Definitely a fine novel with great characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Man_O_Letters More than 1 year ago
I very much enjoyed this intricate thriller. There was humor, creepy bad guys, and a very intelligent and tough good guy. Delaney and his girl pal, Katherine Adams (K.J.), a bright Atlanta lawyer, make a great team. Both are mature, in their late forties, and both are capable of carrying the story and playing off each other when need be. In reading the book I was reminded or Spencer, Robert Parker's returning hero. I'm a fan.
harstan More than 1 year ago
They became lovers in New York City (see MAJESTIC DESCENDING), but while John Delaney is a Big Apple law professor, Katherine Adams is an Atlanta lawyer. They miss one another, but keep in contact though long distance relationships are difficult. Delaney is excited and sad as he has a professional reason to see Katherine. Delaney is heading to Georgia to settle the estate of the daughter of his father's partner. Apparently Sarah fell off a cliff while camping in Cloudland Canyon in north Georgia Mountains. However, this simple matter turns ugly when Delaney learns O'Connor allegedly stole a file from the US Attorney's office where she worked as a legal intern; the file contained incriminating evidence against crime boss Warren Blendel. John soon realizes that Sarah's apartment was searched and that the FBI has kept a case open involving her and her boyfriend Andre Rostov. Not long after that Blendel's thugs come to Atlanta to bury anyone associated with the evidence. Katherine and John find a tie to his fathers' death as the case spins further out of control. Throw away your plausibility meter somewhere on the East Coast and the reader will have a great time going along for the ride of an action-packed thriller. The story line is action-packed and feels at times out of control as Adams and Delaney land in one dangerous disaster after another. Filled with twists, fans will appreciate this entertaining but improbable thriller. Harriet Klausner
Wendel_A More than 1 year ago
I found the characters interesting and the plot compelling. This was one of the better mysteries I've read this year. Definitely enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
in the pantheon of legal thrillers, I would have to consider Dead Docket as run-of-the-mill. The book's rather paint-by-number plotting didn't really hold my interest for too many pages. On the action scale, there were more jolts and jars than twists and turns. This one seemed to be mailed in.
TammyD50 More than 1 year ago
A rambling plot line and sometimes confusing storyline left me underwhelmed by this book. Although character development is usually secondary in a suspense novel, it would have been nice to see a little more evolution of the characters. Can't recommend it except for those who are not very discerning about their reading material.