I wanted to be absorbed by this book, as I wish with every thriller I read. But I just couldn’t fully fall into it.
Some of this was because of the characterization, I think. The characters are quite archetypical. Oscar was cast as the bad boy, and thusly the main suspect. Luke was his opposite, the good guy with the heart of gold, determined to prove his friend innocent. And, of course, they were best friends. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. There just didn’t seem to be a lot of depth to their dynamic, which made it feel as an easy device to progress the story. Enter Pippa, Luke’s secret crush, who has secrets of her own that make her an easy suspect. Then we have Mrs. Heckler, the young and beautiful wife who is a teacher and married to the Dean. I felt like she was painted a little bit with the same brush as in The Scarlet Letter, the upstart harlot. There’s also the Dean’s ex-wife, who also works at the school and seems entirely too okay with her ex and his new wife. And, of course, the Dean himself, who comes off as a bit of a narcissist. A lot of suspects, a lot of characters, and not a ton of depth with any other than Oscar, Pippa, and Luke.
It also really bothered me how much sexuality seemed to be used as a joke. No one in the book seems to identify as anything other than straight. In and of itself, that’s fine as sexuality isn’t in any way a part of the storyline. However, it becomes downright offensive how often other-than-straightness is used in a flippant way. The students joke about girls cheating because they are lesbians. Even a teacher jokes with Luke and Oscar about being gay, even using the phrase “don’t ask, don’t tell” as a punchline. It’s a lot.
The premise of the book was good, and I think if it had been a little more developed it, I would have loved it. I didn’t hate the book by any means. I just wanted… more.
I do wonder about the cover, though. I’m not entirely sure how the title or the tally marks relate to the story. But that is neither here nor there. Another thing that gave me pause… the insertion of narrative about British news coverage of Pippa and her troubles. Everything, even the quotes, was written in American English instead of British English.