In the first book in the Neil Janus mystery series, University Police officer Neil Janus watches the new crop of students arrive on his idyllic campus in a caravan of Priuses and Volkswagens, unaware that within a week two of them will be dead and a third brutally assaulted. The isolated... read more
The first week of the new school year is looking to be a killer for Neil Janus. Along with his fellow University Police officers—Pebbles the young, top-knotted patrolman, and Dean the wannabe scholar—he is quickly overwhelmed by the combined blows of an earthquake, a fire, and the shocking... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
The first week of the new school year is looking to be a killer for Neil Janus. Along with his fellow University Police officers—Pebbles the young, top-knotted patrolman, and Dean the wannabe scholar—he is quickly overwhelmed by the combined blows of an earthquake, a fire, and the shocking deaths of two students. The University campus is a bucolic place, with disturbances normally confined to the mundane, to stolen bicycles and over-imbibing students. But now the world outside is threatening to invade their sheltered city, and Neil doesn’t know if he can hold it back.
Though one of the dead students is found in town—hanging from the city wharf—and the other suffers a very visible death on campus, in Neil’s mind they are connected. When both are revealed to be murders, the threads tying them begin to converge around a near-mythical campus locale known as The Mima Mounds. But the ripples set in motion by the murders radiate beyond the closed circle of the campus. Dylan Keepe and Chris Connelly are two twenty-somethings hounded by misfortune and bad decisions, set on a collision course by the murders.
As Neil investigates the murders, his suspicions quickly focus on two professors—Frank Richarz, an emotionally and physically crippled composer, and Magnus Laksson, a once- promising poet with an ego so large it may affect the tides in Monterey Bay. Richarz and Laksson are desperate to hang onto their positions and their stature, and they feed on the talents of their students to sustain them. Richarz has been working on a plan to steal the thesis composition of Ethan Wallace, the first murdered student. Laksson, meanwhile, is near the end of his life’s work, an epic poem chronicling the inhuman behavior of a campus predator.
Two days after the murders, the final, unacceptable violation of innocence comes with the assault of Ethan Wallace’s girlfriend, Wren. Shattered, she is taken in and sheltered by Neil and a TV weather reporter named Claire Sykes. A close friend of Trey Bolt’s—the eco-protester whose fatal fall from a redwood was the second of the murders—Claire too feels the impact of the spreading waves.
As Neil follows the trail of Wren’s assailant, he begins to find traces of Sonya Lindt, a student poet he once knew, and perhaps even loved. A believer in the redemptive power of art, Sonya’s suicide three years before has dogged him, precipitating his slide from the world and his loss of faith in his ability to protect anyone. The trail leads finally to a series of observation platforms high in the trees above campus. Built for the study of raptors, their original use has been perverted, the subject of study mutated from a natural predator to an unnatural one, from animal to man.
As with the initiating quake, the ripples set in motion by the murders radiate beyond the circle of the main participants. Dylan Keepe and Chris Connelly are two misfits hounded by misfortune and bad decisions, set on a collision course by the murders. On a remote road in the redwoods, they unwittingly thwart a starry-eyed would-be killer and find a surprising comfort in their shared lucklessness. While Neil finds only bitter satisfaction in the crimes’ solution, unable to accept—as she herself could not—Sonya’s complicity and the knowledge that she sacrificed her humanity for her art.
“The ocean was always finding its way in. The faint smell of brine in the hallway, a drift of sand by the front door.”
“The fall weather would arrive soon, the eighty degree days, and the fog would burn off. He looked forward to it, as everyone here did, but he also resented it a little, the forced society of beautiful weather.”
“This is how it starts, he thought. The budding arrogance like intellectual puberty. The university was full of smart kids who’d been left out in high school, and who spent their playtime dreaming of revenge. Erect in their chairs, arming themselves, victims transforming into bullies. Over time, the weakest became the cruelest.”
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