My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Anthony Neil Smith set his best book yet in one of the country's best known cesspools of corruption and wickedness: academia. There's enough viciousness, backstabbing and sexual depravity among Smith's small-college faculty to make Caligula look like an episode of The Little Rascals.
The last decent man in this pit of vipers is Mick Thooft, a good guy but, apparently, a wretchedly bad poet. When Mick discovers his wife's infidelity and her attempt to defraud him out of the marital home, he turns to his friend Octavia, a big woman with a bigger intellect and a capacity for malice that dwarfs both. Octavia pronounces "let's punish the bitch," and proceeds to use her considerable wealth to make that happen. But even Octavia's sheer meanness may not be a match for the evil mind of the antagonist pulling the strings.
Smith pulls off one of the hardest tricks in all of writing: he fascinates you with characters who, for the most part, are completely unlikable. Mick's such a wimp you just want to pick him up and shake him, the only sane reaction to Octavia would be to flee from her screaming in terror, and the rest of the cast (with only a couple of minor exceptions) range from slightly creepy to downright demonic. And yet, you can't look away.
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