Chicago is infamous for its violence, from Prohibition-era mobsters to modern-day street gangs. As a result, novels set in Chicago often fall somewhere on the spectrum of crime fiction. Lori Rader-Day’s blood-tingling debut—a mystery so chock-full of suspense it’s best devoured in a single late-night reading session—imagines a different brand of violence in Chicago, a phenomenon that’s become all too familiar in the 21st century: school shootings.
Ten months ago, Rothbert University professor Amelia Emmet was shot in the gut by a male student she’d never met. Unfortunately, no one believes Amelia’s side of the story. She’s young, attractive and popular with students, so Chicago news media—as well as Amelia’s friends and colleagues—don’t understand why a complete stranger would shoot her before turning the gun on himself. “I don’t know what they all thought—that I baited a troubled kid, drove him insane with sex or quid pro quo grading practices, and then suffered the only outcome that made any sense? Got what I deserved? Asked for it? That was a phrase I’d come across more than once in the comments section of the student newspaper’s website.”
But if anyone can solve the mystery of her attempted murder, it’s Amelia. She’s a sociology professor who specializes in violence. With the help of painkillers and a walking cane, Amelia returns to Rothbert University, where she meets an earnest young graduate assistant named Nathaniel Barber who’s obsessed with the history of Chicago’s criminal underworld. There’s just one problem: He’s a little obsessed with Amelia, too. Together, they discover Amelia’s role in Rothbert’s shrouded pattern of death.
Rader-Day’s addictive prose is atmospheric and laced with dread. Rothbert’s lakeshore campus in the shadow of Chicago drips with dark secrets, and as in all good mysteries, every character is enigmatic and fascinating.
A perfect thriller for the summer, The Black Hour transcends the tropes and formulas of the mystery genre while deftly portraying academia and the city of Chicago as characters in their own right.