With the increase in occurrences of school-related shootings, it was only a matter of time before the crime fiction genre began to address the issue head-on.  Recently, with novels like The Competition by Marcia Clark and now Lori Rader-Day’s debut novel, The Black Hour, that moment is upon us.

The Black Hour tells the story of Amelia Emmet, a professor at Rothbert University, as she returns to campus after being victimized by a student shooter the previous semester.  Still struggling with post-traumatic stress-related incidents, she must find a way to reconcile her traumatic past with her role as a trusted teacher to her current sociology students.

One of those students is Nathaniel Barber.  Nath has as unusual obsession with all things related to violent crimes.  When he finds himself assigned as Amelia’s teaching assistant, Nath realized this is just the break he has been looking for.  Since he wants to write his dissertation on the topic of Amelia Emmet and the crime against her, he feels like there is no better way to do so than to go directly to the source.

Lori Rader-Day allows readers to see and hear things from both Amelia’s and Nathaniel’s perspectives.  Having these two points-of-view gives Rader-Day the flexibility to extend the element of suspense throughout the novel.  Just as Amelia is about to make a revelation or Nath uncovers a hidden piece of the puzzle, the author ends the chapter on a cliff-hanger and changes POV.  This process repeats itself multiple times during the reading of The Black Hour, quietly encouraging the reader to consume just one more chapter.

Woven through the novel are examinations of University life – from both the perspective of the tenured professors, as well as that of the student population.  Readers know that buried within this tale recounting the complexities of campus life resides the real reason behind this shooting.  Rarely in life do we get concrete answers about crimes such as the one described in The Black Hour.  As such, it would have been easy for Rader-Day to leave the “why” in this case ambiguous, but instead she chooses to remain true to her characters motivations:  Both Amelia and Nathaniel are dedicated to studying violence in society and in this case they are rewarded (along with the reader) with some answers.

This is a debut novel for Lori Rader-Day, and yet her assured and unique style is quickly evident.  She shows her versatility in her ability to convincingly slip into both the voice of Amelia and Nath – two individuals who are different enough, yet connected by their academic pursuits.  Readers will be anxious to know why Amelia was shot, making this a quick and satisfying read.  Whatever Lori Rader-Day has planned for her follow-up to The Black Hour, there is little doubt that her fan base will only continue to grow.

_____________________________________________________________________ Disclaimer:  Both a print and digital galley of this title were provided to BOLO Books by the author and publisher.  No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.