The Professor by Lauren Nossett

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Readers familiar with the author’s first novel – The Resemblance ­– will immediately recognise Marlitt Kaplan who was the protagonist in that novel.  Marlitt appears in the author’s latest book although she is no longer a police officer with the Athens PD.  At the end of the first book, Marlitt was severely burned when her house was set on fire and later resigned from the police department.

She is now living with her parents and is employed by her father as a research assistant while she gradually puts her life back together.

A student – twenty-year-old Ethan Haddock – is found dead in his room in a shared apartment.  A suicide like so many other young men?  Perhaps.  But his professor who is the professor of the book’s title  – Dr Serena Sobek – is being questioned by the police and it is rumoured that she and Ethan had an affair which went wrong.  Marlitt’s mother is a colleague of Dr Sobek’s and asks a favour of Marlitt – to investigate the matter and clear the name of Dr Sobek.  But as Marlitt says ‘the lid to Pandora’s box is heavy for a reason.  Even if you find the key, pick the lock, uncork the jar, you will discover only false oaths, lost faith, and duplicity’ [21].  But she does investigate the matter although she can only undertake it ‘unofficially’ and behind the scenes.

Along the way, Marlitt will be forced to interact with her erstwhile partner Teddy who has yet to forgive her for her act of betrayal towards the end of the previous book; and with Oliver who took advantage of her for his own purposes through the last investigation.

This is the premise on which the tale is hung.  The tale is told through three perspectives – Marlitt’s whose chapters are headed [for example] as Monday, March 2, noon; a second series of chapters headed ‘Her’; and a third headed ‘Him’.  It becomes clear as the narrative unfolds that ‘Her’ refers to Dr Sobek but to whom does ‘Him’ refer?  That is the question which remains unanswered until almost to the end of the narrative.  Some readers may attempt to guess who ‘him’ is but their guesses will almost certainly be wrong.

Lauren Nossett has created a psychologically complex novel which is almost claustrophobic in its mood as it probes the social and emotional dynamics of the relationships between the various key players – Serena, Ethan, Madeline, Sadie, Spencer and their fellow students at the college.  The author skilfully captures at-once the constant distraction of young adults by the attention demanded by their mobile devices and their intensity of feelings as they negotiate their relationships with each other and their professor.   Her experience as a professor in the past provides an authenticity to the novel which cannot be manufactured.  She is clearly familiar with the politics of academia.

It is probably a given that with any crime thriller the reader will try to guess ahead to the solution – who did what to whom and why?  Sometimes, the ending will come as a sudden surprise and sometimes the reader thinks – just as I thought – that they have the answer.  However, The Professor will challenge all readers to presume the ending; it is a genuine shock to learn first who the ‘villain’ is, and then what happens next.

A very enjoyable read which combines the best of crime novels with intelligent writing.

The Professor

[2023]

By Lauren Nossett

Pan Macmillan

ISBN 978 176126 822 9

$34.99; 324pp

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