This is a story about things that matter to people on college campuses. It’s fun to read and there’s a compelling “what really happened/who done it?” thread that ties the narrative together.
The book takes place at “the College”, only a slight attempt at a pseudonym for The University of Texas at Austin. Anyone who has lived in Austin will find references to many favorite spots, from Shady Grove restaurant to Hippy Hollow. The campus layout is different from UT’s, but many of the key features are still there. For example, there’s Greek land to the west of campus and there’s a mall area where students can hold rallies and protests (and they do).
The first main character is Jack Conway, Dean of Students at the College. Jack is our window onto University administration. How do the guys at the top make decisions? How do they circle the wagons around big donors? What student issues do they really care about? The book is fiction and no one is claiming that things actually happen exactly as they’re portrayed in the book. But the author, Jim Vick, spent 16 years as VP for Student Affairs at UT. So he knows how to make Jack Conway and his observations ring true.
The second main character is Heather Kilborn, the strikingly gorgeous girl friend of Charlie, a student who has just died drunk in his fraternity house on Saturday night. Heather is our window onto some parts of student life. Heather comes from a middle class family. But she runs in a crowd with some very rich kids. Through her eyes, we see some of the kinds of class tensions that exist at large state schools. We also experience some of the angst that comes with being her age and trying to sort out who she is and what kinds of relationships she wants. Heather is at the center of the main story line: she can’t give up the idea that there is more to Charlie’s death than a frat guy who drank too much vodka at a fraternity party.
The last main character is Beth Brazwell. Beth is one of the campus shrinks. She’s Heather’s foil throughout the book. Heather shows up in her office every two weeks after Charlie dies. As Heather attempts to work through both her personal feelings and her insight into what may actually have happened that Saturday night, Beth relives some of her own college dramas. Beth is also Jack Conway’s girl friend. Their relationship is an interesting subplot in the book. We like both of them so we’re rooting for things to work out. But Beth also plays another key narrative role: she’s the link between authority (the College’s, the local police’s) and Heather’s personal drive to find out what happened to the guy she loved. Information flows through Beth in a convincing way.
I liked this book a lot. The characters are real and likeable. You can really care what happens to them. The mystery, while not exactly thrilling, is compelling and you really want to know how it turns out. I was satisfied with the ending of the story, but sad that it was over.
(reviewed 67 days after purchase)