The Black Hour Synopsis :
For Chicago sociology professor Amelia Emmet, violence was a research topic-until a student she’d never met shot her.
He also shot himself. Now he’s dead and she’s back on campus, trying to keep up with her class schedule, a growing problem with painkillers, and a question she can’t let go: Why?
All she wants is for life to get back to normal, but normal is looking hard to come by. She’s thirty-eight and hobbles with a cane. Her first student interaction ends in tears (hers). Her fellow faculty members seem uncomfortable with her, and her ex-whom she may or may not still love-has moved on.
Enter Nathaniel Barber, a graduate student obsessed with Chicago’s violent history. Nath is a serious scholar, but also a serious mess about his first heartbreak, his mother’s death, and his father’s disapproval. Assigned as Amelia’s teaching assistant, Nath also takes on the investigative legwork that Amelia can’t do. And meanwhile, he’s hoping she’ll approve his dissertation topic, the reason he came to grad school in the first place: the student attack on Amelia Emmet.
Together and at cross-purposes, Amelia and Nathaniel stumble toward a truth that will explain the attack and take them both through the darkest hours of their lives. (Seventh Street Books)
I have great admiration for Lori Rader-Day’s debut novel The Black Hour – it was very difficult to put down – but ask me what it has in common with other psychological thrillers that I have enjoyed in the past, and I come up empty. So let us instead consider more closely which boxes this novel does not tick.
An endearing female protagonist/damsel in distress – no. While the reader can appreciate the frustrating position Amelia Emmet has found herself in, she is consistently snarky, behaves in ways not suitable for a teacher and pushes away those that try to help her. She is also quite dark and self-destructive.
An underdog to barrack for? Not really. You want to be able to like Nathaniel but he is clearly damaged goods – can he be trusted?
He watched me sniffle into the tissue, and there it was again: the barest flash of something shifty and unexpected on his boyish face. It could have been discomfort. I was breaking down in front of him – who would want to be a part of that? But I didn’t that that was all.
A white knight? Multiple characters have the potential to be Amelia’s saviour but they have all either let her down or acted in ways that could qualify as stalking.
Action-packed, high speed plot? While several very meaningful interactions occur between characters, a high proportion of the story is retro- and introspective.
Literary or artful prose? Rader-Day’s writing style is surprisingly unobtrusive. The capability and steadiness of the hand at the wheel of The Black Hour is only evident by the speed at which a reader becomes absorbed in the story’s telling.
So what then is it that makes The Black Hour such a successful debut?
The Black Hour stands out from the crowd because it only takes a sideways glance at the genre tropes as it heads towards something more organic. The level of dark-grey Rader-Day has imbued within the characters’ interactions and the reader’s simmering sense of mistrust of everyone involved, even characters only tangentially referenced, until the very last chapters is downright impressive. And while not succinct by any means, the interchanging dual narrative generates instinctive tension.
I was thoroughly entertained by The Black Hour and look forward to reading more of what Rader-Day has to offer. And we won’t have to wait long with her next title Little Pretty Things currently scheduled for release in July 2015.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
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Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
Author Information: Lori Rader-Day has published fiction in Good Housekeeping, where she won first place in the magazine’s first short-story contest; The Madison Review, which awarded her the 2008 Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction; TimeOut Chicago; Southern Indiana Review; Crab Orchard Review; and other journals and magazines. She lives in Chicago, where she is active in the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter, Sisters in Crime Chicagoland Chapter, and International Thriller Writers. In addition, she is an instructor for Story Studio Chicago/North Shore, where she teaches mystery writing.
– Check out Lori Rader-Day’s website
* My receiving a paperback copy of this novel from Prometheous Books did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.