Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Black Hour

Lori Rader-Day’s debut novel, The Black Hour, was a compelling page-turning mystery, aptly described as “a terrific whydunnit!” since the crime’s culprit is a known entity from the onset and we've been tasked instead with determining the motive. Smart and suspenseful, I was riveted to its every page and suspicious of every character.

Set in Chicago, the tale focuses on Dr. Amelia Emmet, a 38-year old sociology professor and unpublished author of a manuscript titled “Silent Witness: The Sociology of Violence in the American Midwest” who teaches at Rothbert University. The research topic of her life’s work hit a little too close to home ten months ago when Amelia was shot by a student, who then took his own life. Still coping with the physical aftereffects of the attack (the unending pain, a limp, and a growing dependence on painkillers), Amelia is returning to work against her supervisor’s advice and her own better judgment in hopes of getting her life back to normal.

Nathaniel Barber is a grad student more than a little intrigued by Chicago’s violent history. Nath faced some dark personal moments of his own recently (a broken engagement, his mother’s death), but he’s focused on building a brand new start. Assigned as Amelia’s teaching assistant, Nath becomes a quasi-friend and buffer between Amelia and the questioning and dubious stares of students and fellow teachers alike who still wonder about her role in the attack, despite her insistence that she'd never even met Leonard Lehane before the day of the shooting. Despite their growing bond, Nath hasn’t been exactly forthcoming about his true reason for choosing Rothbert University or the topic of his dissertation, namely the attack on Amelia.

Each facing their own dark demons and fears, the two will slowly and separately dig for the truth behind the why; making new friends, allies and quiet possibly enemies in their determined pursuit of finding out what led Leonard Lehane to that darkened hallway 10 months ago, and in doing so face each of their respective black hours, possibly putting their very lives in danger.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved that the author kept you on your toes, always guessing as to each characters respective agenda and ultimately showing that not everyone was exactly as they seem. As I stated above, the shooter's identity is a known factor which only left the why; though having that information could have put a damper on the tale's suspense, the author wrote an intelligent narrative filled with lies and intrigue, which made the protagonist's (and by extension the readers) search for the motive still reliably absorbing.

The story is told through two alternating first person narrators, Nath and Amelia. The narrative featured a pervasive feeling of fear and apprehension, as friend and foe alike fell under Amelia and Nath's scrutiny, helping the reader to empathize with a victim's feelings of paranoia after an attack, where the boogey man is seemingly hiding behind every shadow. The Black Hour featured not only great storytelling, but also a great ending that I really didn't see coming (I had an inkling, but it was minute and passing). Kudos to any author that can put it all out there for their readers, and still somehow leave us in the dark.

The Black Hour's twist on your usual suspense novel made it original and engrossing. A tale that readers can plow through with equal parts excitement and trepidation as they make their angst-filled way through a minefield of complex characters and lies.