Kill All Your Darlings
David Bell does a masterful job in this novel, combining a well-paced thriller with hints of the writing process and the seedy underbelly of sexual harassment on college campuses. He is able to keep the reader committed throughout and reveals all in the closing pages when all the pieces come together.
After an English professor publishes his first novel, he’s hoping for a great deal of praise. However, a former student—missing for the past two years—returns and presses him to admit that he’s used her thesis. This is the least of his worries, as the plagiarized piece includes details about a murder, as yet unsolved, that were never released to the public. Things spiral out of control as the police and college hierarchy begin to ask questions that cannot be dodged. Bell is utterly entertaining and captivating in equal measure.
Connor Nye enjoys his work as an English professor at a small Kentucky college. Having lost his wife and teenage son a number of years before, his work is everything. When Nye publishes his first novel, he is hoping for a great deal of praise and can all but guarantee tenure. Things could not be going any better for him, which fuels his emotions as he arrives home that night.
When he enters his home, Nye is greeted by one of his former students, Madeline O’Brien. This undergrad has been missing for the past two years and her surprise arrival here has Nye in a tizzy. However, things go from bad to worse when Madeline confronts him for using her honors thesis as his own novel. Madeline is keen to recoup her dignity and threatens Nye about coming clean, something that the previously faultless professor must consider.
If plagiarizing were not enough, the police are soon knocking on his door, citing that the premise of the novel resembles an unsolved crime in town from a few years before, including a number of details never released to the public. Now, Nye is faced with being changed as a suspect in the young woman’s murder. What’s worse, while Nye says that he does not know the victim, he can be played along her street many times, having used the area to walk his dog.
While the evidence begins to pile up, Nye is debating about telling the truth about his book, hoping that it will release much of the tension. However, there are more twists to come, some of which only make him look guiltier. With perspectives from Madeline in flashback chapters and a new student of Nye’s telling things in the present, the story takes on many topics as the truth is peeled back and the murder is better explored. Can Connor Nye escape the nightmare that was his attempt to get the academic pressure off his back? David Bell spins quite the tale and I could not get enough.
While I have read many books in the genre over the past while, David Bell has something that I am sure will stick with me for a lot longer than many. He has both a strong writing style as well as some unique approaches that envelop the story in both an entertaining read and educational tome on a few key subjects. The piece moves along well and keeps the reader guessing as the layers are revealed pushing the protagonist to flail between honor and truth. It’s a whodunit as well as a motive-seeking piece, which speeds along until the final few pages.
Connor Nye comes across as somewhat endearing, though his cheating a student out of her glory taints him early on. Suffering the loss of his family, Nye must keep it together as best he can, while also juggling the pressures of academia. When his lie snowballs out of control, Nye is not able to simply pull the plug on it, choosing instead to try explaining his way out of predicament. He’s determined to help his cause, while only making matters worse in short order.
Bell uses some wonderful supporting characters in this piece, as well as juicing it up with three narrative perspectives. As the story is closely tied to the murder, everyone plays their part and keeps the machine well-oiled and running in a single direction. Some characters complement one another, while others clash in needed ways to push the story’s plot along. It’s Bell’s mastering of development that proves to be the greatest accolade in this piece, fixing everyone together as needed to tell a captivating tale.
This was one of those books that took a bit for me to connect with, though when I did, it was pure magic. The plot gained momentum and I could not say enough about how the story flowed. With a mix of chapter lengths and perspectives, Bell gives the reader something they can thoroughly enjoy throughout and keeps them guessing. Plots are interwoven and twists occur repeatedly, offering the reader the chance to second guess themselves repeatedly. I have read some of Bell’s work before, but this was surely something even better than past novels, dealing with some real-life issues in academia, student rights, and the pressures of college campuses.
Kudos, Mr. Bell, for a great piece of work. I hope many find and read this in short order, as the messaging is on point and the writing easy to digest.