Review: What is literature? What if literature is … a game? This intriguing premise is explored — with decidedly mixed results — in Will Lavender's novel of suspense, Dominance.
The storyline alternates between two time frames, 1994 and "the present", assumed to be 2010 or thereabouts. In 1994, a class at elite Jasper College in Vermont is starting called "Unraveling a Literary Mystery", to which only nine students have been invited to attend. Richard Aldiss, their professor, is conducting the class via a video feed to the prison in which he is confined, having been found guilty of murdering two students of nearby Dumont College during the 1980s. He does not profess his guilt nor does he deny it; but it seems clear that he intends for one of the students in his class to prove definitively, one way or the other, by studying two novels by the reclusive author Paul Fellows. In the present, told primarily from the perspective of one of the students, Alexandra "Alex" Shipley, two of the original students, who attended "Unraveling a Literary Mystery", are dead, one by suicide, the most recent having been murdered. Aldiss is a free man in this time frame, due primarily to the as yet unexplained efforts of Alex as a student. The remaining seven students are gathering to honor their dead classmate, only to discover that the "game" is still being played.
For a reader, Dominance is an incredibly frustrating novel. The game the characters are playing from the novels by Paul Fellows — and two of the principles of the game are that you don't know you're playing until after it has started and you don't know who else is playing — depends on attention to detail. Yet there is an astonishingly lack of attention to detail in the narrative here. It seems as if this book was rushed to print, before anyone had a chance to correct all the inconsistencies present in an earlier draft version. Setting all this aside, however, there remains a problem central to the plot itself. It's not a spoiler to say that Dominance is heavily dependent on Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None for its foundation. Playing a literary game on top of this foundation is a clever way to approach a derivative work, but the identity of the present day killer is, somewhat ironically and almost literally, shouted to the reader in the early chapters. The whydunit and such may not be known at this time, but the whodunit is most definitely obvious. That's disappointing in and of itself, but in a way, it helps, since it is one less variable to deal with in a novel that proffers plenty of questions, not the least of which are: Is Richard Aldiss guilty of the original murders?; If not, who is?; and Who is Paul Fellows?
There is so much initial promise to Dominance that it is disheartening that it turns out to be as flawed as it is. Is it worth a read? Yes, most definitely, as there are a number of elements that differentiate it from the everyday thriller, and the final chapter almost makes up for so many of the problems that came before. But overall, a memorable and "lterary" novel of suspense it is not.
Acknowledgment: Simon & Schuster provided a copy of Dominance for this review.
Review Copyright © 2011 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Dominance: Vermont, Iowa
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Dominance by Will Lavender
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: July 2011
List Price: $25.00
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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