In a tense novel based on the Milgram Behavior Experiments in 1970, a class at Winchester University (Logic and Reasoning 204) opens with an unusual format. Professor Williams gives his students an assignment: find a kidnapped girl named Polly, or she will die at the end of their six-week term. The class project is designed to exercise the studentsí use of logic. Certain clues will be delivered to each student via email regarding time, place, motive and circumstance.
At first, the students are somewhat confused; certainly, this is the most unusual approach to classwork they have ever dealt with. Later, most become enthusiastic, finding the assignment invigorating. For some, the whereabouts and potential murder of Polly becomes an obsession. The action in Obedience revolves around three students in particular: Mary Butler, Brian House, and Dennis Flaherty, each of whom struggles with correlating the evidence revealed, separating truth from reality.
Mary Butler, a high-achiever who carries her laptop to class, is easily the most intrigued by the task, looking for an edge, hoping to capture the professorís interest without looking foolish before the class. Still healing from a painful relationship with Dennis Flaherty, Mary is uncomfortable in his presence - they have rarely seen one another since the breakup.
Gathering clues like precious gems, Mary is consumed with unlocking Pollyís puzzle, to the extent that she can barely concentrate on her other classes. A bit too deer-in-the-headlights, Mary compulsively researches, walking into potentially dangerous situations regardless of her fear.
Brian House is by turns interested and suspicious, his brotherís suicide casting a pall over his young life; he remains in school to avoid placing another burden on grieving parents. But when coincidences outside the classroom interfere with Brianís ability to distinguish truth from twist, he begins a troubling emotional journey that taps into the turmoil he has felt since his brotherís death.
Dennis Flaherty is the most intellectually sophisticated of the three, logical and decisive. His one weak spot is an intense attraction to Dean Ormanís wife, Elizabeth, a brilliant woman working on her thesis who ties his head up in knots. Working separately and later together, these three pivotal students form the crux of a mystery - or is it reality? And will someone really be murdered at the conclusion of the class?
Designed to test each of the studentsí ability to separate logic from a series of distractions, they weigh and measure each clue, searching for patterns, connections. The closer they get to the end of the term, the more frantic their activities, classwork becoming an obsession, Polly leading to an old true crime case and the implications of a murderer at large. In a labyrinthine minefield of fact and fiction, reality intrudes in a stunning conclusion that injects the unpredictable: the human element.