Look for a change of pace in “The Spire,” Island resident Richard North Patterson’s recent thriller of murder and embezzlement on a small college campus in central Ohio.
After reading his last book, “The Eclipse,” a big, taut, international action tale of a third-world psychopathic dictator and his corporate mercenaries, the hijinks at Caldwell College may seem somewhat like facing Tim Wakefield after six innings against Josh Beckett.
For best results in reading “The Spire,” the adjustment is similar. Readers are advised to slow down and pay attention to the details. The results are worth it.
Mark Darrow is the new president of Caldwell College, his alma mater outside Columbus. Mr. Darrow is the former star quarterback, plucked from the wrong side of the local town tracks 20 years ago by a prescient professor. He went on to graduate Yale Law and is rich, winning class action suits against corporate predators.
The philosophy professor who discovered Mr. Darrow and became his mentor, reaches out to bring him from his Boston law practice to help the college that gave him his start.
Now Caldwell needs him to sort through an embezzlement charge against the former president. Caldwell has had its share of grief over the years, including the murder of an African-American coed during Mr. Darrow’s senior year, for which his best friend was convicted and has served 16 years in prison.
Mr. Darrow found her body under the spire of the school’s iconic tower. He’s been haunted by the event, and now his legal mind is nagged by doubts that the wrong man was convicted and that the former president isn’t the embezzler. He and his readers are off in search of the answers.
Part of the allure for mystery readers is the rush to turn pages, to find out whodunit. Mr. Patterson’s effort here asks us to savor, not to rush.
“The Spire” is set in Boston and in Ohio’s bucolic rolling countryside. The author provides dead-on descriptions of glorious Ohio springtime and timeless summer nights in elegant Back Bay, complete with a visit to Fenway for a Big Papi walk-off homer. (For Red Sox fans familiar with Ortiz’s season so far, please remember that this is a work of fiction.)
The author’s work differs from formula thriller writing because his books always deliver more than a zesty page-turner. He always includes subtext around the human condition and the less attractive aspects of the American experience that resonate after the final page. He does his homework on those issues, and that adds sustenance to the read.
For example, in “The Eclipse,” unfettered corporate greed is laid out like a legal brief. You can’t miss it. In “The Spire,” the American experience of racism, class distinction, and the ugly legacy of Vietnam resurface. Mr. Patterson delivers more than the genre generally delivers.
“The Spire” is available at Edgartown Books and the Bunch of Grapes.
Jack Shea is a regular contributor to The Times.