Richard North Patterson has returned to writing the types of books that made him one of my favorite authors! This is a great psychological suspense novel, and drew me in from the first pages.
Mark Darrow is a succesful lawyer, but after some life crises he returns to his old alma mater as the college president. His job is to try to restore the school's reputation, which has been on the decline since a murder during his college days. This brings back many conflicts for Mark, in part because his best friend was convicted of the murder and is in prison for life.
Flipping between the past and the present, Patterson does a great job of re-telling the story and tying it into the present day. He keeps you in suspense until the very end, although I will say my hunch about the real murderer was correct. Patterson also develops a beautiful love story and tale of healing for Mark and his love interest.
This is a great book-you will not regret a minute spent reading it!
Richard North Patterson has written some truly gripping thrillers in his day. The compelling Eyes of a Child springs to mind immediately as an example of what this writer can do when he's on top form -- a rollercoaster ride, where the reader never really knows which way is up and who to trust. Unfortunately, in this return to the genre (after recent books that have too often been tedious reads set in the world of presidential politics and the supreme court, where Patterson allowed his passion for causes like gun control to take priority over the telling of a great story, a big no-no in my opinion), the bad guy was obvious to me from very nearly his first appearance on the scene, long before the commission of any crime. (I can't say why without a giant spoiler, alas.) So my only question revolved around the specifics of 'how', and a bit of the 'why', rather than the 'who'. The result? A disappointing book.
The plot revolves around Mark Darrow, a lawyer who owes his current life and career to his football scholarship to Caldwell College and, especially, to his mentor, philosophy professor Lionel Farr. Now, Farr calls on the recently-widowed and directionless Darrow to give back to his alma mater, asking him to return as the college's president and rebuild its reputation in the wake of an embezzlement that the last president seems to have orchestrated. Together with the murder of a young African-American female student in Darrow's final year, a crime of which Darrow's best friend was convicted, this scandal leaves Caldwell College vulnerable, and Darrow accepts the challenge.
It's an intriguing premise, but it never really pans out. The characters' relationships (with the exception of those between Darrow and Farr and his daughter) are very sketchily developed and never really convincing. The plot twists were modest and telegraphed in advance, and the whole book felt rushed. Patterson himself has tackled this theme -- that of a man going back to the place where he came of age, solving a contemporary crime as well as one in the hero's past -- before in one of his best books, Silent Witness, and did it again with a female protagonist in the book now titled Caroline Masters. One of the strengths of those two books were Patterson's courtroom scenes, which are typically fabulous -- and which are absent in this book, which wraps up not in a trial with Perry Mason-style fireworks but in a series of sudden revelations that appear suddenly at the end of the book.
This is a ho-hum effort by Patterson, and I'd recommend it only to the author's die-hard fans who have already read his other books. For those new to Patterson's works, by all means seek out -- as rapidly as possible -- books like those above as well as Degree of Guilt or Dark Lady. Generally, I'd advise getting this from a library, and turning to other thrillers, like those by Greg Iles or Thomas Perry, if you're in search of some real dramatic tension.
I really enjoyed Richard North Patterson's latest and found myself hooked within the first few pages. The idea of a former college football star coming back to his old college as school president sixteen years later to handle a crisis, while suddenly re-investigating an old, presumably solved murder case, struck me as a brilliant premise, and it was handled very well. Clearly a skilled writer, Patterson slowly reveals clues while amplifying characterizations, constructing a murder mystery alongside a seemingly unconnected financial mystery with a poignant, if slightly underdeveloped, love story forming its emotional center. One might argue that the novel's middle is a little flabby with dialogue-heavy chapters as the protagonist informally interviews person after person involved in the sixteen-year-old murder of student Angela Hall. However, all great murder mystery novels use this device, and while it can be tedious in the hands of a less skilled author, I found myself eagerly turning page after page even when two characters are sitting in a diner, chatting over coffee.
The most surprising part of my reading experience was the novel's ultimate predictability. In no way am I skilled at guessing the endings of books; indeed, quite the opposite. I'm usually guessing until the final chapter and always am I most surprised at the end. Strangely, I had this one figured out about fifty pages in, and was both pleased and disappointed when every subsequent clue simply confirmed what seemed to be the obvious outcome from the start. Yet I remain steadfast in giving this novel a glowing review because it is well written and, even though I was able to figure it out well in advance of the protagonist, I very much enjoyed the ride. Four big stars, minus one because, in the end, I was hoping for a little out of the blue twist that never materialized. Still, highly recommended!
on September 9, 2009
Richard North Patterson, acclaimed for his character-driven political thrillers, makes a departure from the major issues of previous novels like Eclipse and Exile and turns out a straightforward campus mystery in The Spire.
Mark Darrow has made millions practicing law after graduating on a football scholarship from Caldwell College, a fictional but familiar-seeming formerly Christian school in small-town Ohio. Sixteen years later, his alma mater is asking for his help. The school is embroiled in a financial scandal involving its president, and Lionel Farr, Darrow's mentor and the school's provost, asks Darrow to return to Caldwell to fill the now empty position. Darrow agrees, but upon his return, he quickly finds that all is not well at the little college.
The story follows Darrow as he adapts to his new job, but between fundraising calls to prominent alumni and meetings with faculty, he finds time to investigate not only the financial scandal for which the former president was ousted but also a 16-year-old murder for which his best friend is still serving time. For some reason, no one in town, from the police chief to the local attorney, seems to think it the least bit odd that the new college president would be investigating a murder that took place a decade and a half earlier.
As a mystery, The Spire mostly succeeds. Patterson does a good job of setting up multiple plausible suspects early on, and the ending delivers a predictable but satisfying twist. But the story, while interesting, is flawed by uncharacteristically careless writing. The transitions between story elements are jarring at times, and much of the book's first half contains confusing memories of memories and flashbacks within flashbacks. The plot is frequently interrupted by lengthy sections of dialog that, while they serve to build character depth, are largely unsupported by any real drama in the story.
Like most of this author's books, the story is told from a purely secular viewpoint, and the objectionable content that exists stems from that fact. It is either interesting or unfortunate, depending on one's point of view, that Caldwell, a purportedly Christian institution, exists in such an environment that things like rampant drug and alcohol abuse and even a professor's affair with a student are viewed as wrong only insofar as they affect the school's reputation among wealthy alumni.
For all its problems, however, this book was still penned by one of the great fiction authors of our time. So while it falls short of the bar set by Patterson's best-sellers of previous years, it nevertheless manages to be compelling right to the final page.
on September 1, 2012
Like everyone else, I became a Patterson fan when I read Eyes of a Child and Degree of Guilt. I bought everything he wrote until he started off on his political tangents. I couldn't even finish the one about the death penalty and I know to avoid any of his later books starring Kerry Kilcannon.
That said, I was so thrilled to see him putting out a book that didn't harp on political issues, that I bought The Spire. I really enjoyed it and finished it in less than a day. It was maybe a little slow, and the character development a little thin, but compared to his last efforts, this is a masterpiece.
If you love Patterson, you'll like this book. But do not expect it to be in the same league as Eyes of a Child and Degree of Guilt.
It isn't often that I use the four star option, but I choose to on this excellent novel because parts of the plot were a little too facile and transparent. A certain relationship, and potential perpetrator, a couple of rather too obviously innocent accused folks contribute to that.
And yet -- there is something about a novel written by a former lawyer who was good at his trade. As a participant in the Watergate Special Prosecutor's process, Patterson has had the opportunity not only to rub shoulders with very skilled attorneys, but to develop access to highly skilled people to add believable detail and texture to his tale. The afterword details many of these folks, and their particular expertise, and it is an imposing list.
One failing that is often found in suspense novels, particularly ones with a psichological basis is a need to provide a nice tidy ending that ties off all the loose ends. To achieve this in a believable and satisfactory way is a rare skill, and I thank Patterson for having that skill -- and using it.
The novel does dissolve into a slightly turgid development towards the middle, but the final of the three sections entitled the same as the novel, "The Spire" totally held my attention to the extent that I discarded all other plans for the evening until it was finished.
A couple of extra notes -- I found the first chapter in the first section "The Offer" had a most engaging segment describing a good professor of philisophy conducting a class. The very strength of this segment made me want to stick with the novel no matter what happened -- and I am glad I did. Later when a slightly contrived relationship developed between the protagonist, Mark Darrow and another person I wasn't comfortable. I'm not going to spoil the yarn by telling too much, but I will say that what seemed a little artificial matured into something truly charming -- and even believable.
So, four stars, but only because of that lapse into turgidity in the middle. Recommended nonetheless!
After about a decade, Richard North Patterson has returned with the type of thriller that made him one of my favorite authors. In THE SPIRE, Patterson writes of a shocking murder at a small Ohio college that changes everyone involved. Patterson used to write legal thrillers that were filled with amazing depth and psychological suspence. Then he moved on to political novels. Since he is a liberal and I'm a conservative, they weren't my favorite. I read a few, but not all, and found them well written, but just not fun. Then, he moved on to issue novels, tacking the death penalty, the middle east, and Africa. These books were again well written and very good, but certainly not escapist fiction.
In THE SPIRE, Patterson returns to his roots. Fans will find nothing new here, but will find everything about Patterson they always enjoyed. Mark Darrow had a troubled childhood, leading him to have to live with his friend Steve Tillman. Darrow is a high school football star and Lionell Farr, a teacher at local Caldwell College, gets Mark a scholarship. Mark is a star at Caldwell too, but his life is changed when he finds the murdered body of Angela Hall, a black woman, beneath the Spire. Mark's friend Steve is convicted of the crime.
Mark returns to the college 15 years later as newly appointed president. He's always wondered about Steve's conviction, and as he begans to research it, he has a lot of unanswered questions. Mark's investigation turns up old flames of jealousy, racism, and regret. He also develops a relationship with Farr's daughter, which may or may not be a good thing.
In saying that Patterson returns to what he does best, I also believe this novel offers nothing new accept the way Patterson used to write. So don't expect anything groundbreaking, but do take comfort in that Patterson can still write a very good novel.
Though billed as a thriller, The Spire is actually a cold case whodunnit. Mark Darrow (a lawyer named Darrow? really?) returns to his alma mater and immediately starts digging into a fifteen-year-old murder case. It's not truly a cold case, because everyone else believes that the guilty party (Darrow's best friend at the time) was convicted and sentenced to life for the murder of black co-ed Angela Hall. Mark has returned to Ohio and Caldwell College because his former mentor, Lionel Farr, selected him as the prime candidate for president of the college. The previous president is suspected of embezzling nearly a million dollars from the endowment fund. The college's reputation and future funding is at stake.
Darrow was previously hand-picked by Farr for a football scholarship that kept him from a dead-end job in the local factory after high school. Instead he was given the chance of a lifetime that put him on the road to a Yale law degree and a high-paying job in Boston. Darrow's pregnant wife died in a car accident two years ago. At loose ends, he is available to uproot himself and return to Caldwell, where the college's iconic spire serves as a constant reminder of the murder. Angela Hall's body was found at the base of it after a rambunctious frat party -- found, in fact by Mark. Shortly after returning to town, he embarks on a relationship with his mentor's daughter, who was only a girl when he last saw her. All of this is quite good, and fodder for interesting character and plot developments. A lot of people aren't happy that Mark is rooting around in the past, partly because it brings back unpleasant memories and partly because it makes them feel that Mark suspects they didn't do their jobs properly. The one person who probably did not do his job properly, the defense lawyer for Mark's friend, has died in the interim.
The success of a whodunnit depends on two things: a surplus of likely suspects and a surprising but credible reveal when the real murderer is unmasked. There are other candidates for the Angela's murder, though the most likely one is SO obvious as to be dismissed--at least in a suspense novel. Once the embezzlement case ties in with Mark's off-the-record homicide investigation, though, the number of suspects drops precipitously.
After a steady, if unremarkable, beginning and middle section, where Mark interviews a lot of people who have amazingly accurate recall of an event (albeit a memorable one) from fifteen years in the past, the book collapses. The real culprit is simultaneously obvious (because who else could it be?) and incredible, because the author has laid so little groundwork for the reveal. Everything we know about the character is undone. True, there were some very subtle clues scattered throughout, but it just didn't feel right.
on March 10, 2015
I wanted this to be better. Performance was at times flat and rarely as compelling as the story deserved. I guessed the killer very early on and there were not enough in the way of red herrings. We listened on because my husband would not believe my solution.
on July 9, 2014
Another super novel by my favorite author. I loved the characters in this book and as usual, Mr. Patterson causes the reader to feel as though they know these people and care about them. The suspense in the book is done very well and only near the very end can you begin to guess as to how it will all turn out. And you will not be disappointed.