Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review: "The Black Hour" by Lori Rader-Day

It has been a while since I've gotten so engrossed in a book that I nearly missed my metro stop, but that happened when nearing the end of Lori Rader-Day's well-written and compelling The Black Hour. Luckily I looked up just as I realized where we were!

Dr. Amelia Emmet is a sociology professor specializing in the study of violence at a prestigious Chicago university. She is well-respected and driven. Then one day the unthinkable happens—a student shoots her and then kills himself. No one understands what drove the student to violence, although most are quick to believe it was something Amelia did, that perhaps the two had an illicit relationship that caused him to try and kill her. But Amelia never knew him, and has no idea why this student would shoot her before taking his own life.

Much to the surprise of her colleagues, Amelia returns to school 10 months later. She's struggling emotionally and physically, and isn't sure if she can muster the enthusiasm to teach again, but she needs to be back at work. Maybe she's a little dependent on painkillers, maybe finding out that her ex-lover has gotten married has thrown her for a bit of a loop, but she can handle it, can't she?

Nathaniel (Nath) Barber is a graduate student who comes to Chicago because he's obsessed with its violent history—Al Capone and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, to name a few. And he's a little too interested in what happened to Amelia, which leads him to become her teaching assistant. Nath has his own emotional issues, stemming from his mother's death and the end of a relationship, so he understands the darkness that might lead someone to take their own life. But he also begins to realize that Amelia needs more help than she's willing to let on.

Nath and Amelia begin to uncover the truth about the shooting, and catch the attention of an investigative reporter who covered the incident. Yet as they search for answers, they find themselves in an increasingly tangled web, one which forces them to plumb their own emotional depths and confront their own issues.

I had my suspicions about how Rader-Day would tie up The Black Hour, and I was mostly correct, but the fact that it was somewhat predictable (at least to me) didn't detract in the slightest from its appeal. I couldn't stop reading this book because I was completely drawn into the plot, and found the characters really appealing despite their quirks, so I wanted to know what happened to them.

This is a really enjoyable book—it's a well-written novel with some good suspense thrown in. I look forward to seeing what comes next for Lori Rader-Day. I'll be waiting.

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