3.4 16
by Will Lavender

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Fifteen years earlier. Jasper College is buzzing with the news that famed literature professor Richard Aldiss will be teaching a special night class called Unraveling a Literary Mystery—from a video feed in his prison cell. In 1982, Aldiss was convicted of the murders of two female grad students; the women were



Fifteen years earlier. Jasper College is buzzing with the news that famed literature professor Richard Aldiss will be teaching a special night class called Unraveling a Literary Mystery—from a video feed in his prison cell. In 1982, Aldiss was convicted of the murders of two female grad students; the women were killed with axe blows and their bodies decorated with the novels of notoriously reclusive author Paul Fallows. Even the most obsessive Fallows scholars have never seen him. He is like a ghost. Aldiss entreats the students of his night class to solve the Fallows riddle once and for all. The author’s two published novels, The Coil and The Golden Silence, are considered maps to finding Fallows’s true identity. And the only way in is to master them through a game called the Procedure. You may not know when the game has begun, but when you receive an invitation to play, it is an invitation to join the elite ranks of Fallows scholars. Failure, in these circles, is a fate worse than death. Soon, members of the night class will be invited to play along . . .

Present day. Harvard professor Alex Shipley made her name as a member of Aldiss’s night class. She not only exposed the truth of Paul Fallows’s identity, but in the process uncovered information that acquitted Aldiss of the heinous 1982 crimes. But when one of her fellow night class alums is murdered— the body chopped up with an axe and surrounded by Fallows novels—can she use what she knows about Fallows and the Procedure to stop a killer before each of her former classmates is picked off, one by one?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A college campus, as it did in Lavender's debut, Obedience, provides the backdrop for the author's taut second stand-alone. In 1994, as an undergrad at Vermont's Jasper College, Alex Shipley was part of a controversial night class, Unraveling a Literary Mystery, taught from prison by literature professor Richard Aldiss, who was serving a life sentence for murdering two female grad students 12 years before. The class's mission: to learn the identity of reclusive author Paul Fallows, whose two novels were clues to his identity and were best understood by playing a game called the Procedure. Alex's investigation not only uncovered Fallows's identity and a masterful literary hoax but also exonerated Aldiss of the murders. Now a Harvard professor, Alex returns to Jasper after her classmates in Unraveling a Literary Mystery start turning up murdered, their bodies arranged the same way the two grad students were. Full-bodied characters, an effective gothic atmosphere, and a deliciously creepy, unpredictable finale will please fans of academic thrillers. (July)
From the Publisher
"The self-reflective process of literary criticism known as 'deconstructing the text' becomes a diabolical game of murder in Dominance, an academic mystery by Will Lavender that gleefully illustrates the dangers of losing yourself in a book. . . . Lavender has the devious skills to write a twisted puzzle mystery."The New York Times Book Review

“Mr. Lavender should be able to write his third, fourth and fifth puzzle-crazy potboilers on the visceral strength of the first two. . . . Dominance is quick and complicated, in a wishfully Da Vinci Code way. But it is also very narrow, à la Agatha Christie . . . Part of Mr. Lavender’s sleight of hand involves flattering the reader’s keen intelligence . . . His book is tightly edited, with a lot of choppy leaps between 1994 and the present, and with a lot of white space (à la James Patterson) to accompany them. And he writes with real enthusiasm . . . Yes, this book’s obsession with riddles and game playing is what one of its characters calls “high nerd,” . . . But it is sincere and not just a feat of cookie cutting.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Lavender's novel is a literary labyrinth, the kind made popular by Jorge Luis Borges, without ever losing the pace or the pleasure of a taut thriller.”Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

"Silence of the Lambs, Agatha Christie, and maybe Pynchon are prerequisites for this thriller set in small-town academia.”San Antonio Express-News

“With Dominance, Will Lavender has written a fascinating novel. If you like puzzles you will enjoy this book. If you are a fan of twists you will like this book. If you like both puzzles AND twists then you will probably flip over this book. It will have you guessing until the final page.”Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Dominance is a twisting, tilting, hall-of-mirrors funhouse of a book . . . [the plot] unfolds like origami with razor-sharp edges . . . [Lavender] plays fair with the evidence, but he treats his readers as intelligent beings, allowing each of us to puzzle out the answer without spoon-feeding the solution or killing the mystery with excessive foreshadowing as many page-turner authors often do. . . . Dominance reveals its secret stealthily, maintaining the mystery and suspense of the present while divulging the secrets of the past. That is a tricky tightrope, and it is marvelously executed.”Louisville Courier-Journal

“If anyone out there is looking for a good summer book, maybe a beach read, instead of reading something frivolous and light, why not try something that will actually make you think? Will Lavender writes puzzle books: half mystery, half thriller, with a literary twist thrown in for good measure. His newest book, Dominance, will make you think. A lot.”Fort Worth Fiction

“If you enjoy puzzling twists and turns, and suspense that doesn’t let up even on the last page, you should delve into Dominance.”Bowling Green Daily News

“[A] taut second standalone. . . . Full-bodied characters, an effective gothic atmosphere, and a deliciously creepy, unpredictable finale.”Publishers Weekly

“Lavender is Houdini-level dexterous at the sleight-of-verb necessary to keep the reader guessing, doubting, perplexed and attentive throughout the book. Characters lie, memories lie, senses lie, and underpinning it all is the game-that’s-not-a-game, this enigmatic Procedure, that pulls like an uncontrollable undertow from beyond the grave. Who is Paul Fallows? Maybe the students in Dominance would have been better off never knowing the answer, but Lavender’s readers will be abundantly rewarded.”Bookpage

The Silence of the Lambs meets And Then There Were None . . . a terrific premise.”—Booklist

"Lavender's exciting second literary thriller (after Obedience) pulls readers right into the hunt. Aldiss reminds us of a sexy Hannibal Lecter, and the mystery of the reclusive author Paul Fallows and his connection to the class is riveting. Well-drawn characters, excellent plot, good use of flashbacks, and many red herrings will keep the pages turning to the very end."Library Journal

"Lavender takes on another puzzle-within-a-thriller . . . Twisty and turny, with all kinds of side roads . . . [He] manages to maintain the novel’s taut, sinister atmosphere from the first page to the last. . . . Readers who loved Lavender’s first book will doubtless delight in this one."Kirkus Reviews

“With nods to Christie, Poe and Lovecraft, Lavender crafts a deadly game of obsession, full of riddles, subterfuge, grim revelation and red herrings galore.”Winnipeg Free Press (Canada)

"A brilliant concept, brilliantly executed. Dominance soars to the top of the thriller genre by infusing its rapid-fire plot with the mysteries of literature and authorship and offering cutting-edge (so to speak) psychological insights into minds both noble and horrifically demented. You'll never look at professors, authors or, well, books the same again. Oh, and that last page . . . "—Jeffery Deaver, #1 international bestselling author of Edge and The Burning Wire

“Will Lavender constructs plots with the expertise of a Parisian baker, masterfully layering mystery on top of mystery until, just when you think the whole thing might topple over, he sets it all together into a dangerously delectable mille-feuille of storytelling. Do save room for seconds.”—Graham Moore, New York Times bestselling author of The Sherlockian

Dominance is a twisting, intriguing and compelling psychological thriller of the first order. Will Lavender has created a clever maze of a plot, fraught with dark corridors and deadly ends. With this novel in your hands, you'll be voraciously turning the pages late into the night, maybe thinking you're a step ahead, until you realize you've always been a step behind—right up until the stunning final scene.”—Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of Fragile

“Will Lavender has laid out a rich feast for fans of psychological thrillers—at the heart of it all is a weird, addictive game that’s far more dangerous than anyone realizes. This intricately layered story of murders past and present generates plenty of chilling twists and turns, right up to the final sentence.”—John Verdon, bestselling author of Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight

Kirkus Reviews

Lavender (Obedience, 2008) takes on another puzzle-within-a-thriller, also set on a college campus.

Dr. Alex Shipley was a member of a special class of nine hand-picked students chosen for a night course taught by a former professor and convicted murderer, Dr. Richard Aldiss. Aldiss, who has made the study of the reclusive author Paul Fallows his life's work, stands convicted of killing two graduate students. He's set to teach the class from prison, under the watchful eyes of his guards. Naturally, it's no ordinary class: Aldiss has sprinkled clues throughout the course, hoping to lead one student on a journey; in this case, it's the beautiful Alex. She was spectacularly successful. Not only did she unlock Aldiss' puzzle and help him win acquittal, but now Alex has returned to Jasper College to solve the death of a former classmate whose murder is a disturbing replica of the grad students' deaths. When the remainder of the nine still living come together in a spooky mansion replete with a dean who likes to wear makeup, it is soon clear that there are strange things going bump in the night. With more bodies turning up, Alex finds that the killer's true intention may be more personal than she might have ever imagined. The story is twisty and turny, with all kinds of side roads, but it's mostlyThe Big Chillwithout the humor or sympathetic characters. The premise of the class, the police's fawning reliance on a professor to solve their case, the mystery of exactly who Fallows might really be and the cast of weird characters come together in a story that often calls for the reader to suspend all rational thought. With action that veers from the original Aldiss class to the present and back, Lavender manages to maintain the novel's taut, sinister atmosphere from the first page to the last. But in the end, the story is unsettling, unsatisfying and unbelievable.

Readers who loved Lavender's first book will doubtless delight in this one, while those who did not will find his latest extremely tough reading.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.16(w) x 9.24(h) x 1.08(d)

Read an Excerpt


  • Just after dark they rolled in the television where the murderer would appear. It was placed at the front of the lecture hall, slightly off center so the students in back could see. Two men wearing maintenance uniforms checked the satellite feed and the microphones, then disappeared as silently as they had come. It was now five minutes before the class was to begin, and everything was ready.

    This was the first class of its kind, and its novelty—or perhaps its mystery—made it the most talked-about ever offered at tiny Jasper College. As mandated by the school president, there were nine students in the classroom. They were the best of the best in the undergrad literature program at Jasper. Now, on the first night of the semester, they waited anxiously for their professor to emerge on the screen.

    The class was LIT 424: Unraveling a Literary Mystery. It had been offered at night because this was the only viable time, the only hour when the warden would allow the murderer free to teach. He would teach, if you believed the rumors, from a padded cell. Others said he would be in front of a greenscreen, with special effects to replicate a lectern before him—an illusion of a classroom. The rest claimed he would simply be shackled to his chair in an orange jumpsuit because state law prohibited anything else. They had to remember what this man had done, these people said. They had to remember who he was.

    The room was warm with the closeness of bodies. The chalkboard seemed to glisten, even though the Vermont night outside was bitterly cold. The quads were mostly silent, save for the protesters who stood the stipulated two hundred yards from Culver Hall, where the night class would be held. The class met in the basement of Culver for this reason: the powers-that-be at Jasper did not want the protesters to be able to see what was happening on that TV screen.

    The few students who were out at that cold hour witnessed the nervous candlelight of the protest vigil from a distance, through the copse of beech and oak that dotted the woodsy campus. A light snow fell, flakes rushing upward in the January wind like motes of dust. Not far away, Lake Champlain purred in the wind. It was as if, one freshman said as he looked down at the scene from a high dormitory window, someone were about to be executed.

    Just beyond the protesters, in a building that was dark save for a few bottom-floor lights, a pair of state policemen sat in a room the size of a broom closet, drinking coffee and watching their own blank feed on a tiny screen.

    Unraveling a Literary Mystery—this too had been contested. The president of the college chose the title because it sounded to him fitting for what the professor had in mind. But in fact the president did not know exactly what the class would entail. He could not know; the murderer had only hinted at a “literary game” his students would play in the class. About his syllabus he had spoken to no one.

    It was this inability to even guess at what was about to happen that silenced the classroom now. In the weeks before the semester had begun, when they went home to their families on Christmas break, the students who had registered for LIT 424 had time to think. To weigh their decision to take this strange course. They wondered if something could go wrong in that lecture hall, if their professor could somehow . . . it sounded crazy, yes. Most of them did not say it aloud, or if they did, they spoke only to their roommates or their closest friends. Slight whispers, torn away by the wind, carried off into nothingness.

    If he could somehow get out.

    This was what they were thinking in those final seconds. Some of them talked about their other classes that semester, flipped through textbooks and highlighted paragraphs in trembling arcs of yellow. But mostly they sat, saying nothing. They stared at the dead television screen. They wondered, and they waited.

    Finally the television went to a deeper black, and everyone sat up straight. Then the box began to hum, an electrical, nodish oohing, a kind of flatline that moved left to right across the room. Their professor—the MacArthur-winning genius, once a shining star at nearby Dumant University and the closest thing to celebrity a professor of literature could possibly be, the same man who had viciously murdered two graduate students twelve years before—was ready to appear.

    Then the blackness dissolved and the noise died away and the professor’s face came to them on the screen. They had seen pictures of him, many of them preserved in yellowed newsprint. There were images of the man in a dark suit (at his trial), or with his wrists shackled and smiling wolfishly (moments after the verdict), or with his hair swept back, wearing a tweed jacket and a bow tie (his faculty photograph at Dumant in 1980).

    Those photographs did not prepare the students for the man on the screen. This man’s face was harder, its lines deeper. He was in fact wearing a simple orange jumpsuit, the number that identified him barely hidden beneath the bottom edge of the screen. The V of his collar dipped low to reveal the curved edge of a faded tattoo just over his heart. Although the students did not yet know this, the tattoo was of the thumb-shaped edge of a jigsaw puzzle piece.

    The professor’s eyes seemed to pulse. Sharp, flinty eyes that betrayed a kind of dangerous intelligence. The second the students saw him there was a feeling not of surprise, not of cold shock, but rather of This, then. This is who he is. One girl sitting toward the back whispered, “God, I didn’t know he was so . . .” And then another girl, a friend sitting close by, finished, “Sexy.” The two students laughed, but quietly. Quietly.

    Now the professor sat forward. In the background the students could see his two prison guards, could make out everything but their faces—the legs of their dark slacks, the flash of their belt buckles, and the leathery batons they carried in holsters. One of them stood with legs spread wide and the other was more rigid, but otherwise they mirrored each other. The professor himself was not behind a pane of glass; the camera that was trained on him was not shielded in any way. He simply sat at a small table, his uncuffed hands before him, his breathing slow and natural. His face bore the slightest hint of a smile.

    “Hello,” he said softly. “My name is Richard Aldiss, and I will be your professor for Unraveling a Literary Mystery. Speak so I can hear you.”

    “Hello, Professor,” someone said.

    “We’re here,” said another.

    Aldiss leaned toward a microphone that must have been just out of the camera’s view. He nodded and said, “Very good. I can hear you and you can hear me. I can see you and you can see me. Now, let us begin.”

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    Meet the Author

    WILL LAVENDER is the author of two previous novels, Obedience (which was a New York Times and international bestseller and was translated into fourteen languages) and Dominance. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

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    Dominance 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
    Sharon Kolbet More than 1 year ago
    One dimensional characters, sloppy writing, cannot understand why the NYtimes gave this a good review.
    Erik Selakoff More than 1 year ago
    I would imagine this book is considered a literary it's author & total drivel by most everyone else.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I really enjoyed the dual-time stories and the idea of the "procedure". Richard Aldiss'character is creepy.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    Alla_S More than 1 year ago
    "Dominance" by Will Lavender follows the alumnis of a former night class taught by jailed professor Richard Aldiss-formerly convicted of murdering two female students, and in 1994 teaching a class dedicated to discovering the identity of enigmatic author Fallows. The book's premise alternates between the class of 1994, and present day when one of the grads of the class is murdered and Richard Aldiss tells the book's protagonist, Alex Shipley-another grad of that infamous night class, that the murderer is someone from that class. Events switch back and forth between 1994 and present day. Back in 1994, Alex is told by the college's dean that he believes Aldiss is innocent of the murders, and the only thing that can prove his innocence is the discovery of the true identity of Fallows-whom their night class is dedicated to, and who might have been the true murderer. In the present day, former members of the night class are invited by the dean to attend the memorial of their killed classmate. But soon enough, they start getting murdered as well. All clues point to yet another Fallows connection, a sort of copycat murders. But this time, Alex is no longer sure of herself. Was Aldiss, the man to point to the connection between the current murders, ever truly innocent? Who was Fallows? And if someone involved in the night class is behind the murders, whom can she trust? Overall, the book has an interesting format-alternating between two mysteries, one set in 1994 and one set in the present day. I thought the structure was creative and kept my interest in the story. The ending is pretty unpredictable, as things finish out on a cliff-hanger note and the reader is left to wonder about the fate of Alex Shipley.
    HKSavage1 More than 1 year ago
    Lavender's style relies upon dialogue and action to define his characters, no deep introspections for pages and pages here. He takes control on page one, gets you going and doesn't let you stop until the end. I wasn't sure what to expect within Lavender's story, some flashback or dual time style books can be hard to follow or a challenge the author isn't up to; not so for Lavender. The dual times only add to the suspense and suspicion, keeping the reader guessing until the end when the ride comes to a quick stop. But not the story.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    PGold38 More than 1 year ago
    The plot develops too slowly and the charactets are one dimensional. I understand the author's intent to unveil the mysteries slowly, but by 100 pages in I found I couldn't care less what "the procedure" was or what happened to the characters, even the protagonist. Interesting premise, missed opportunity.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    JGolomb More than 1 year ago
    I'm so happy to be done reading this book. Now maybe I can get a decent night's sleep. Wil Lavender's "Dominance" is smart, dark, intense and deeply moody. This thrilling murder mystery is part "Silence of the Lambs", and part Agatha Christie and is driven by Lavender's slow and purposeful development of characters and clues and revelations around key plot points. Lavender bounces the reader between past and present building up the mysteries and tensions surrounding a 20-year old pair of murders and a recent murder that brings former college classmates together for a macabre reunion. Both past and present mysteries revolve around former professor and convict Richard Aldiss. This very Hannibal Lecter-like character continually dances along the fine line of being good and evil as he helps guide his students to first finding the truth behind the murders he was accused of over 20 years ago, and then the more recent murder of their classmate. 20 years ago, the top 9 students in the Literature program at a small Vermont college take a course that promises to unravel the mystery of who novelist Paul Fallows really is. It's taught by Aldiss via closed circuit TV under heavy guard from his prison cell. Lavender does a masterful job at building and connecting multiple mysteries while teasing the details and leaving the reader salivating for more. The interactions between Aldiss and his students, particularly Alex Shipley, will evoke memories of Lecter and his "student" Clarice Starling. Aldiss is extremely smart, deep and bizarre and has a way of pulling all of those around him into his own cult of personality. Some of Lavender's clues are a bit clunky. Some of the dialogue feels too forced. The conclusions left me a bit disappointed, but any book that keeps me up late riveted and excited for more while keeping me more focused on every shadow and creak in my house than on getting a good night's sleep, will get a high recommendation from me.
    Cate_T More than 1 year ago
    "What if you could read a book and treat it as a competition between you and its author?" - Alex Shipley, Chapter 3. That is pretty much how I tackle anything from the mystery/thriller genre, whether it be a TV show, a movie, or in this case. a book. Will Lavender is an author of what he calls "puzzle thrillers," novels that are not quite mysteries and not quite thrillers but incorporate elements of both, and I have never read anything like it. Like most of you, I enjoy a good mystery book. I love the challenge it posts in the beginning, the chase, the way it all unfolds in the end. My book-love started with those Nancy Drew Mysteries collections. As a kid, I ate all of it up. But after a while, it begins to look the same. Someone gets killed, there are clues left behind, the villain taunts the heroes, the villain gets caught. Over and over. And sometimes, it builds and builds only to an ending that is less than satisfying. This book breaks through all that. The book jumps right into it; setting up the premise that will last the whole book. Our hero, Dr. Alexandra "Alex" Shipley, was a part of an elite experimental class in Jasper College, Vermont in 1994. This class was being taught by a jailed professor named Dr. Richard Adliss, convicted of brutally murdering 2 grad students. The crime scenes were littered with the books of the author Paul Fallows. Who is this elusive Paul Fallows? Richard Adliss then shows his class of 9 students how to answer that question. Fast forward to "Present Day". Alex is now a professor at Harvard. She is famous in the literary world as the one who found out about Fallows' true identity. In the process, she also acquitted Adliss of all charges against him. But then, one of her former classmates gets killed in the same way as the grad students' murders. She then uses the skills Adliss taught them to solve this mystery. The book bounces back and forth between 1994 and present day. Normally, I get turned off by this storytelling device but Lavender showed excellent use of flashbacks. It kept me on my toes, guessing at every turn of the page. Both past and present settings are equally exciting. I love that both settings move forward rather the present the only one progressing and the flashbacks are just random points in the past. Parallel time lines, I enjoyed. Also, I liked the cast of characters. Some are a little bit cliche but the focus is very heavy on the main characters that I did not mind the minor ones that much. It is definitely one of the most frustrating books that I have read in a while. When reading mystery novels, I usually solve the puzzle somewhere midway through the story. Some authors just make it too obvious. But this one? Oh boy. I had suspicions but I was never 100% sure until it was officially revealed. The plot was airtight and solid. The flashbacks are very essential to the present day storyline as if it answers the questions of the present. Recommendation: If you're tired of your usual mystery/thriller novels and looking for something different, pick this one up. This is definitely something new. I read it and treated it like a competition between me and the author and guess what, Will Lavender won.
    harstan More than 1 year ago
    In 1994 in Vermont, Jasper College hires literature Professor Richard Aldiss to teach an undergraduate class Unraveling a Literary Mystery. Using closed circuit TV Aldiss will conduct the class from his prison cell where he serves two life sentences for murdering two female grad students twelve years ago. Aldiss assigns his student with identifying who reclusive author Paul Fallows is. Fallows has written two novels containing clues to who he is, but to achieve a chance at success means understanding the game Procedure. One of the students Alex Shipley not only achieves the objective, she proves her incarcerated professor could not have killed the students. Several years later someone kills one of the nine students who participated in Unraveling a Literary Mystery using the same M.O. as the homicides that placed Aldiss in prison. Harvard Professor Alex returns to Jasper to investigate who the murderer is. Rotating between 1994 and the present and enhanced by references to the 1980s homicides, readers will enjoy this suspense thriller. The cast is especially solid with obviously the leads being the game playing enigmatic Aldiss and the genius Shipley. However, a critical late revelation about Aldiss seems inane for such a brilliant mind though emphasizing the gamester personality but to me detracts from an otherwise exciting whodunit then and now. Harriet Klausner