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The Black Hour

The Black Hour

4.3 8
by Lori Rader-Day

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For Chicago sociology professor Amelia Emmet, violence was a research topic—until a student she'd never met shot her. 

He also shot himself. Now he's dead and she's back on campus, trying to keep up with her class schedule, a growing problem with painkillers, and a question she can't let go: Why?

All she wants is for life to get back


For Chicago sociology professor Amelia Emmet, violence was a research topic—until a student she'd never met shot her. 

He also shot himself. Now he's dead and she's back on campus, trying to keep up with her class schedule, a growing problem with painkillers, and a question she can't let go: Why?

All she wants is for life to get back to normal, but normal is looking hard to come by. She's thirty-eight and hobbles with a cane. Her first student interaction ends in tears (hers). Her fellow faculty members seem uncomfortable with her, and her ex—whom she may or may not still love—has moved on.

Enter Nathaniel Barber, a graduate student obsessed with Chicago's violent history. Nath is a serious scholar, but also a serious mess about his first heartbreak, his mother's death, and his father's disapproval.  Assigned as Amelia's teaching assistant, Nath also takes on the investigative legwork that Amelia can't do. And meanwhile, he's hoping she'll approve his dissertation topic, the reason he came to grad school in the first place: the student attack on Amelia Emmet. 

Together and at cross-purposes, Amelia and Nathaniel stumble toward a truth that will explain the attack and take them both through the darkest hours of their lives.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 05/12/2014
Sociology professor Amelia Emmet, the heroine of Rader-Day’s exceptional debut, returns to Rothbert University, near Chicago, 10 months after a student shot her and killed himself. Struggling with physical and mental problems caused by her injuries, Amelia is equally aware of irony: she’s a scholar of violence in society, yet has no idea why she was attacked, had no acquaintance with the perpetrator, and only the sketchiest of memories of the incident. Nathaniel “Nath” Barber, her teaching assistant and student of Chicago’s gangland past, is eager to investigate and soon links the shooter with associates of Rothbert’s suicide hotline. Meanwhile, a reporter seems too conveniently at hand when trouble arises, an eccentric array of campus colleagues are inclined to blame the victim, and a scion of Rothbert’s founder may have taken entitlement to a new extreme. Chapters that alternate between Amelia and Nath’s viewpoints provide an irresistible combination of menace, betrayal, and self-discovery. Agent: Sarah Bowers, Miller Bowers Griffin Literary Management. (July)
From the Publisher
WINNER! 2015 Silver Falchion: BEST FIRST NOVEL, Mystery/Thriller

Mary Higgins Clark Award Finalist
Left Coast Crime Rosebud Award Finalist - Best Debut Mystery
Barry Award Finalist – Best Paperback Original
Macavity Award Finalist: Best First Mystery Novel

"An exceptional debut.... An irresistible combination of menace, betrayal, and self-discovery."
Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW

"An unputdownable read."

"Captivates from page one.... This reviewer was bowled over by the novel's alternating points of view, superb storytelling, and pitch-perfect take on academia."
Library Journal STARRED REVIEW

“This first novel about two broken people is a psychological thriller like the best of Alfred Hitchcock. Amelia Emmet is a professor desperately trying to recover from a gunshot wound, and Nathaniel Barber is a student struggling to come to grips with his mother’s death and a lost love. Their journey, told in alternating chapters, is riveting and full of surprising discoveries. Highly recommended.”
#3 LibraryReads Pick, July 2014

“Rader-Day’s addictive prose is atmospheric and laced with dread. Rothbert’s lakeshore campus in the shadow of Chicago drips with dark secrets, and as in all good mysteries, every character is enigmatic and fascinating. A perfect thriller for the summer, THE BLACK HOUR transcends the tropes and formulas of the mystery genre while deftly portraying academia and the city of Chicago as characters in their own right.”

"An unusual protagonist, a timely crime, and outstanding writing make The Black Hour a stand-out debut."

“You know how wonderful it is to find a novel that you hate to put down? . . . The Black Hour kept pulling me back for just one more page, one more chapter.”
“A terrific whydunnit! This dark page-turner of a puzzle—well-written, with bite and style and edge and simmering conflict—will keep you riveted from page one.”

“A riveting, ingenious first novel. . . . The Black Hour will linger with you weeks after you’ve read it.”

“Utterly compelling. The question at the heart of The Black Hour is original and engrossing, and I defy anyone not to devour the book to get to the answer. . . . A triumph.”

The Black Hour is the rarest of mysteries: one that wants to keep you turning pages in a cold sweat, suspecting every character you meet of both the best and the worst motives; and also one that has something complicated and important to say about the forces that impel us toward death . . . and life. It’s an extraordinary debut, marking the arrival of a major new voice in literary suspense.”
 “The perfect thriller—smart, tense, and foreboding. Every page left me hungry for the next.”

Library Journal
★ 07/01/2014
Chicago's Rothbert University was rocked when one of its sociology professors, Amelia Emmet, was shot randomly; the student attacker committed suicide immediately after. End of story. Readers enter as Amelia returns to teaching months later, determined to take ownership of her own mystery case. Teaching assistant Nathaniel Barber is protective, but covertly he wonders if Amelia might become his dissertation topic. A newspaper reporter has pursued her story since day one, and he hovers too closely for comfort. Finally, there is the suicide hotline staff who seem extra-zealous. All of these behaviors create an air of paranoia. Not until Amelia's memory begins to loosen does she realize that danger has not left the campus. A seriously scary sailing regatta on Lake Michigan brings it all home, vividly! VERDICT With disconcerting timeliness (in the wake of recent shootings), Rader-Day captures the more sinister aspects of campus life. While the author captivates from page one with her psychologically attuned debut, it is the sociological frames that work so well: class, power, and violence. This reviewer was bowled over by the novel's alternating points of view, superb storytelling, and pitch-perfect take on academia. [A July LibraryReads pick, see p. 119.—Ed.]

Product Details

Prometheus Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt




Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2014 Lori Rader-Day
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61614-886-7



My lungs clawed for air as though I were drowning. I stopped, hunched over my grandmotherly cane, gasping. The curved walk up from the parking lot stretched out before me longer than I remembered, steeper. This is how it would be. Every task more difficult than before. Every step a public performance.

That's when I heard the camera.

I'd been expecting someone, hadn't I ? One of the lawyers, a campus cop. I always expected to be watched now. Why else had I parked not in the handicapped spot in the faculty lot but the one just next to it?

The guy with the camera was too young to be a lawyer or the police. His hair punked, his chin smooth. The student press had provided my welcoming committee.

What did I look like to this kid? From a distance, ignoring the cane, without the zoom lens, maybe I could pass for a student. A grad student. My hair swung loose and long. I'd made an effort. After ten months on the couch, I'd pulled out the good shampoo, the high heels, lipstick.

The cane, though, wasn't fooling anyone.

"Did you get a shot up my skirt—" I couldn't chase down my breath. I readjusted my bag across my chest. "—when I was digging myself out of my car? Did you get that? Pulitzer stuff."

He lowered the camera, paying close attention to his lens.

"You're not the one who claimed to be my nephew in the emergency room, are you?" My face felt hot. Through the zoom lens, clutching the swan's neck of my cane, I wouldn't look anything like a student. Dark circles under my eyes. Shaking hands. Maybe the photographer couldn't see that I already regretted the heels. Maybe he wasn't really looking. "Or are you the one who prank calls me at two in the morning? Don't get me wrong" I said. "I'm up. The pain's good for that."

He looked now.

"Get my good side, OK?" I posed, both hands on the cane, chin lifted toward the lake. It sat like a blue jewel on the horizon. A beautiful day to rise from the dead.

The camera stayed silent.

"What ? Are you waiting for me to drop my clothes so you can see the—"

I'd been looking forward to this day and had planned an early arrival to avoid a few stares. Hoping to get one minute with my old life before the new one caught up with me.

"Here's what I think," I said, continuing past his spot against the ivy and on to the front door of Dale Hall with what I hoped looked like dignity. "A restraining order isn't the best way to start your career."

I reached for the door. An electrical charge shot through my belly, my hip, down through my leg. A crushing bolt of lightning I couldn't predict and couldn't control. I was on fire. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the photographer raise his camera.

I launched myself through the pain and into the lobby.

The kid didn't follow. No one came running. I took my time, clutching the cane and fighting for the surface. At last I felt the ground steady under my feet. After a few shuddering breaths, I could smell the deep musk of Dale Hall: wood paneling, dusty books, and disinfectant that never quite reached the corners. It was a smell more than a hundred years in the making. Home. Only one place in the world felt more inviting than this spot, and that was the small, drafty room upstairs that served as my office.

I lurched toward the elevator, then stopped.

I had taken the elevator, able-bodied, many times. But the path to the elevator would trot me past the glass doors of the dean's suite, past his gossiping assistant, and through an open atrium, where my clicking and clacking would only be magnified.

To my right, the staircase rolled out like a tongue, a taunt.

At the summit, just up there, lay the scene of the crime. Peering up into the darkness, I felt a cold finger of fear slide down my spine.

The dark hall, a hand rising—


I'd begun to think of my memory as a high shelf at the back of a closet. I couldn't reach everything, no matter how hard I stretched. When the shelf of memory wobbled, I righted it by force.

There were twenty-five or so stairs, and then one more after the landing pivoted. That was all. A physical challenge, sure, but how hard had I fought, only to have a few stairs stop me? I could do this. I had to.

I positioned myself at the first step and took stock.

Up, lead with the good leg, the physical therapists had said. Down, lead with the bad. I didn't like thinking that half my body had turned on me, but who could blame it? I took a first gentle step with my right leg, no problem, then positioned the cane and pulled the left—bad—leg up behind, only to be met with a pinprick of outrage deep in my gut. I eyed the next step like a foe.

We'd make it a game, the cane and I. Right leg, weight shift, canetap up, left heel up, ouch, weight shift, right again, repeat. I lost track of the game and stopped to rest. I glanced over my shoulder. I'd climbed four steps.

Below, a young man stood watching.

A different kind of electricity shot through me. I noticed his heavy backpack, his empty hands. A student. I'd always liked the students. You had to, or none of it was worth it.

I didn't have to like them anymore.

I went back to my climb, suddenly understanding why the dean hadn't wanted me to return.

Jim Perry, his bushy white eyebrows like a pair of hamsters shading his eyes, had come to see me at home a week ago. An unexpected visit, me still in the sweatpants I'd worn for three days. I didn't look like I had it together, but I promised him I did. The university would offer me retirement, he announced, as though I'd won an award. With a settlement and health benefits. I needed those. "Amelia, you should take more time to get over this," he said. He'd already called it the accident. "We want to see you healthy. We want to see you well."

In other words, they didn't want to see me at all. Retire ? I'd only received tenure two years ago, only been handed my PhD a handful of years before that. An academic career was supposed to be long and steady. A marathon—though the metaphor stung—where you ran hard and long, and at the finish line your peers gathered around you with precariously full wineglasses and seethed with jealousy. No more teaching. No grading. No advising earnest graduate students. No more obligations beyond your own research interests. The ultimate tenure.

But you had to earn it. You had to run the marathon, or you were just unemployed.

I took a deep breath and leaned into the next step. I could not believe how many stairs there were to the second floor. I had enough time to think about architectural trends, the ascent of the modern style. Short ceilings, manageable flights of stairs—what was wrong with squat, one-story buildings? Nothing. I loved this building, loved the wide stairs worn with footsteps, the smooth wooden rail I clutched to pull myself up. Even at first sight, Dale Hall had seemed to me a venerable finish line. Not bad for a girl from the sticks, for the hardship case who'd gone to a state university and only by the grace of full funding. Not bad, and highly unlikely. That first year at Rothbert University, I'd hardly relaxed, certain that someone would pull out the rug. But I'd earned my post and then tenure to keep it. I'd be damned if they were going to take it from me.

Though just now I'd have given it all away to work in one of those sprawling suburban junior college malls instead of this relic.

A hesitant footstep sounded behind me. I clung to the railing, leaving plenty of room to get by. Whoever it was hung back.

"OK," I huffed and waved them ahead with the cane.

"Good morning, Dr. Emmet." The kid from below caught up with me, his hair flopping into his eyes. Of course. They'd all know me now. "Do you need—"

"OK," I said.

His quick shoes hurried ahead and around the corner.

What did I need? I needed to take the elevator.

Right foot up, cane-tap, left—oh, jumping Christ that hurt.

What would happen if I couldn't make it up the stairs, if I could not force my body to finish what I'd started? I was more than halfway now, but sweating and deaf to everything but my own ragged breath. All the worries came rushing up to greet me. I might never walk without the cane. I might never live without that bolt of lightning through my gut. I would never carry children. I had trouble imagining in which universe I would ever again hope to have sex. Doyle's face came to me, but that didn't help. I was alone, damaged. Old fears I thought I'd pushed away roared back. Never good enough. Now that everyone was looking, I couldn't hide it.

Step by excruciating step, I rose toward the landing, glaring at the last riser. Cane-tap, and now there was a pause, a brace against what was coming, goddamn heel up—and the searing pain in my hip and through my pelvis, so much pain that I wanted, just for a while, to lie down and give up.

My boss wanted it. Maybe they all did.

"I didn't do anything wrong," I'd said the morning Jim came to talk me out of my life.

Like everyone else I'd heard from while I was in the hospital or on leave, like the insurance detectives and the kid's family's lawyer who wasn't supposed to contact me but tried, like all of the reporters and the bottom-feeding curious who had no real excuse to want to know what happened. Like the voice on the other end of the line most mornings at two. Like everyone else, the dean thought I must have done something.

Something unspeakable. Something so bad no one could think what it could be.

"What could have caused that kid to ... did you even know him?" Corrine had asked. When they finally let someone visit me in intensive care, Corrine was the only person I wanted. Even she, my officemate and best friend, couldn't make sense of it. "What happened?" she kept saying.

Highly medicated, I'd hardly managed Corrine's name. I could barely speak, barely think. I couldn't tell her.

I couldn't tell anyone why that kid had shot me.

I didn't know.

The landing. Cane-tap, pause. The last step might buckle me, but I had come this far. I had come to—drumroll—the second floor. It didn't seem like much, but the roar of my bones and belly assured me it was something. Even weak and gnarled, I could climb a few stairs. I could get to my office. I could work.

Of course I'd never be able to get back down. I'd have to wait until everyone else had left so I could take the elevator. Tomorrow, the next day, the rest of the academic year? I couldn't begin to think about the life ahead of me.

At the very least, though, I had a life to dread.

I turned to face the hallway, and there, leaning against the wall outside my office, his back to the stairs, was a man. My brain supplied the image—a hand and gun rising out of the dark

It couldn't be.

What about the second explosion? And the open hand, like a flower, on the carpet? The hand that was not mine. Memories rushed at me but didn't link up.

My heaving breath roared in the silent hall. I collapsed against the handrail, waiting. If someone had come to finish what the student before had started, I couldn't stop it. I was too weak to do this, all this, again.

The man turned. It was the kid from the stairs.

What was in his backpack? What was that look on his face? Shame, stealth, a resemblance.

The moment passed. His features rearranged into uncertainty.

"What?" I panted.

"I was hoping to, uh, catch you."

"Not moving that fast. What do you want ?"

He glanced away. "I think you're my advisor."

"Your advisor?" I tried my weight on the cane. This last step was Kilimanjaro. It was Everest. Who's to say I wouldn't fall? Someone somewhere had already placed that bet.

"Your advisor." I mopped my forehead with the back of my hand. "If I were you, I'd have mixed feelings about that."


Excerpted from THE BLACK HOUR by LORI RADER-DAY. Copyright © 2014 Lori Rader-Day. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
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

Lori Rader-Day, author of The Black Hour and Little Pretty Things, is a two-time Mary Higgins Clark Award nominee and the recipient of the 2014 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. Lori’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery MagazineTime Out ChicagoGood Housekeeping, and others. She lives in Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing at StoryStudio Chicago and serves as the president of the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter. Her third novel will be released by Harper Collins William Morrow in spring 2017.

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The Black Hour 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Susan725 More than 1 year ago
This is the book I'll be recommending to everyone this summer. This masterful debut novel alternates between the points of view of Amelia Emmet, a sociology professor, and her graduate assistant, Nathaniel Barber. Emmet, who is still recovering emotionally and physically from a shooting injury inflicted by a student, is lost in a life that once felt familiar. Now her office has been remodeled, she walks with a cane, and her former live-in boyfriend/boss is newly married to someone else. Meanwhile, Barber is both depressed and obsessed–obsessed with Professor Emmet, that is, and with unraveling the story behind the violent act that nearly killed her. The reader, too, becomes obsessed with uncovering the whys and hows. The midwestern setting, the subtle humor, and the expert pacing all kept me turning the pages wanting more. I can't wait to read more from this author
AdamMorgan More than 1 year ago
A thrilling, suspenseful debut that will keep you up all night. The world needs more Chicago-based fiction, and Rader-Day's electrifying new mystery, THE BLACK HOUR, is a welcome addition to the Chicago canon alongside Michael Harvey, Jim Butcher, and Veronica Roth. Except this novel is better than any of theirs, because it goes beyond the genre's cliches and archetypes, and really showcases Chicagoland instead of relegating it to background scenery. The dialogue crackles like Mamet's. The characters are fascinating and true-to-life. The minimalist prose flows like a well-honed screenplay. And the mystery...THE MYSTERY. It's a killer. A perfect thriller to cuddle up with this summer, preferably at night, in the quiet of your own home. Just don't expect to get much sleep
NSylvester More than 1 year ago
Lori Rader-Day's debut about a sociology professor's return to campus after being the sole victim of a school shooting (aside from the shooter himself) is a brilliant read. It's a page-turner for sure, but it's also a fascinating take on the traditional "whodunnit" mystery because the real driving question to the story is "why"? Why this student, and why this professor his victim? The novel is told from the point of view of Dr. Amelia Emmett and her teaching assistant, Nathaniel Barber (who has his own secret interest in her shooting), and the author vividly brings both to life. I was impressed by the strength of each character's voice, and how clearly we as the readers could see their secrets, their desires, their motivations and baggage, while they themselves could not. It made for a terrific character study in tandem with the mystery's unfolding of events, in addition to a whip-smart commentary on our times and our relationship to violence. You'll definitely keep thinking about this one long after you've turned the final page.
Nooklover35 More than 1 year ago
"That was the thing I'd come to understand about this place. I'd only scratched the surface of what there was to know, but even a superficial nick revealed both the dark past below and how thin the patina covering it was."  I love how noir this book is. Everyone's a little rotten; everyone's got a criminal streak. What's really unusual is the way Rader-Day deals with the aftermath of violence. The main character is alienated, cut off from society by the violence that's been done to her. She is both an insider and the ultimate outsider. A totally real, and usually neglected, aspect to violent crime. Amelia pushes herself further away from the land of the living with drugs, alcohol and borderline inappropriate sexuality. The other main character, Nathan, has dark tendencies himself. He's the kind of guy who sticks his fingers into bullet holes and has created a stalkerish shrine to Amelia's shooting in his bedroom. What happens at the end is-- well, not a typical noir ending. We come to root for these damaged individuals who turn out, in a weird way, to be the most "normal" characters of all. Very well done.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Progressively suspenseful, interesting characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Slow to get into, but picks up. Can be difficult to follow at times. Not too bad a read.
KimRadar More than 1 year ago
Lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC of this. Clear your day once you start reading, because you won’t want to put this down. Here are some of my favorite things about this book… 1. Characters full of flaws. Who wants to read something with perfect, unrealistic characters? Better to be able to identify with their fears and snarkiness. Especially the snarkiness. Right? 2. At one point in the book, I suspected EVERYBODY. WTF? I love it when I can’t predict where a book is going. 3. The fast-paced, thrilling climax. This is when you don’t want to put the book down people. Let me tell you, I was reading this at lunch. And someone came in and interrupted me right at the end of Chapter 43. Once you read this, you will realize why I was considering lunging across the lunch table. I ended up having to finish it on my commute home. My train arrived when I was so close to the end that I sat in my car and finished it before I left the station. Definitely reminded me of some of my favorite authors… Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, Sophie Hannah. 
CRNP More than 1 year ago
I though this book was tedious with no likeable characters.