This is a well-constructed mystery that will keep you turning each page. And that makes it a quick read. Along the way, there’s a bit of history woven in, lots of library research, a connection to British knights, and a bunch of secrets to be discovered. You also get a peak into the elite world of attending Harvard University, with random tidbits about which dorms are considered the most prestigious, which famous people attended, and where Harvard students in-the-know go to eat.
But for me, this is so obviously a book written by a male writer for a male reader, especially if that reader happened to attend Harvard University or some other male-dominated Ivy League school. I felt I was reading a book that would have been published in the 1940s or 1950s, rather than taking place in the late 1980s.
At its core, this is a deep dive into white male privilege — no matter that the main character, Spenser Collins, is an Afro-American from the streets of Chicago who plays basketball for Harvard. (Sound a little trite already, maybe?) The story focuses on Spenser’s initiation into the shadow world of Harvard’s private clubs, where rich and powerful alumni have created a “brotherhood” that unites the elite across generations. In fact, Spenser is so consumed with solving club mysteries and attending basketball practices that he (along with his rich friend Dalton) seldom seem to do any actual studying.
As a woman reading about this world, so much of what happens seems downright childish to me. Boys breaking into dorm rooms in the middle of the night to frighten and blindfold students for assorted hazing rituals. Secretly delivered letters informing a few select students who is in and who is out at which private club. Lots of forced alcohol consumption, followed by raucous laughter when pledgers end up violently vomiting. Imposed risk taking and, of course, the requisite mooning. Plus, lots of careless sex with anonymous women — always provided by club members to pledgers as a sort of celebratory gift. I think the most offensive section for me was when pledgers end an offsite ritual by being delivered to a group of beautiful women, wearing nothing but high heels, who stand waiting to “entertain” them. (Are we talking male fantasy here or what?)
At the end of the book, when the final secrets are revealed, the solution feels contrived — with a whole bunch of new elements introduced and then elaborately intertwined. For me, it did not constitute sufficient payoff for slogging through so much overt sexism and boy play.Here’s a link to the author’s Wikipedia page.