Richard Gazala's Reviews > Dominance

Dominance by Will Lavender
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Jul 11, 2011

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Who is Paul Fallows? He's an American literary giant, the author of a pair of novels scoured in college English departments around the country for deep, eternal truths about the human condition. For decades, brilliant English literature students at elite universities across the nation participate in a twisted game called the Procedure in attempting to discover the recondite Fallow's long-obscured true identity. The object of the game is to win, of course. The best players find winning the game comes not so much from trying to uncover who is Fallows, but why is Fallows? And the cost of victory may well prove fatal.

"Dominance" is Will Lavender's second novel, and it's a good book. It's billed as a thriller, but the majority of it reads more like a cozy literary mystery sporadically spattered with murders of varyingly violent description. The story lurches back and forth in time between events set in the present-day and 1994. Though Lavender handles the flashback aspect of his tale reasonably well, it can still make for a disconcerting read, and adds unnecessary confusion to a fairly straightforward murder mystery. Lavender writes well -- despite the recurrent flashbacks the plot progresses at a decent clip, his dialogue is generally realistic, and he's very good at setting tone, mood and atmosphere.

Readers will note obvious correlations linking "Dominance" to popular works preceding it. The relationship between Lavender's main characters, Harvard professor Alex Shipley and her (unjustly?) imprisoned former professor Richard Aldiss, is heavily influenced by the similar contretemps between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling in Thomas Harris' 1988 novel, "The Silence of the Lambs." Much of the present-day plot happens in a creepy old house on a fictional college campus, where seven of Aldiss' former students gather to mourn the death of a recently murdered classmate only to each find him- or herself as much prey as suspect while freshly killed corpses pile up. It's reminiscent of any number of locked room murder mysteries, and sprinkled too with elements from Shirley Jackson's 1959 horror novel "The Haunting of Hill House," and Stephen King's 2002 television miniseries "Rose Red" (which itself owes homage to Jackson's novel).

It's an intelligent and worthwhile read, but readers with an appetite for an action-packed serial killer thriller won't be sated by "Dominance."
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