Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Review: Dominance by Will Lavender

This book has such a great cover, doesn't it?  You've got the old books and parchment forming the bloody axe - how often do you find a thriller with a cover that references the Russians?  From the cover alone you can surmise that it's going to be smart and creepy - and it completely delivers.  It's a literary thriller, which you don't find too often, that alternates between past and present.  In the past section, a group of college students are hand picked for a class taught by a literature professor convicted of committing two horrible murders and covering the bodies of his victims with books.  The class, taught via video from the professor's cell will cover murder/mystery in novels.  In the future, the professor has been pardoned, but the class members who have since moved on with their lives are starting to die one by one and their bodies are covered in books. 

Good, above average for the genre.  I LOVED all the literary references the author threw in, especially those to Crime and Punishment, which is one of my favorite classics.  There were a few situations I found hard to believe - an established liberal arts university is having a convicted serial killer teach class from his jail cell - and the class is held in an abandoned building's basement late at night?  That's very convenient for adding mood/creepiness, but not really believable.  Also, for probably the first 100 pages or so I really felt like I was reading a variation of Silence of the Lambs.  The sophisticated, incredibly smart villain manipulating the young woman from his prison cell - how can you read that and not think Hannibal Lechter?  Soon, however, the story takes on its own voice and I had forgotten all about Hannibal by the end.

Awesome.  So much smarter than many thrillers and the literary aspects make it even better.  It was smart and scary at the same time.  And a very good scary.  Like a pull the covers up to my chin scary.  BUT, it was scary without resorting to graphic violence and/or sex.  I feel like a lot of recent scary movies and books have moved away from the psychological and more toward the sexual.  They use sexual violence as a way to shock and scandalize the reader, and insert lots of gore in just to make sure we're paying attention.  I love that Will Lavender manages to keep us entertained by his story and his characters and not by shock value or tittilation.  There are some extremely creepy characters in this book, and some very scary situations, but those situations aren't based on sexual violence, which is a welcome relief.  Think the original Psycho as opposed to the Saw or Hostel franchises. 

If you can handle the creepiness, I say go for it.  It is a wonderful scary tale without the tropes of sexual violence and gore that are seen way too often for my taste and often cover a lack of plot and character development.

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