"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
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)
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.