Richard North Patterson writes a gothic mystery veiled in the routine investigation of a white-collar crime, the bland world of academia hiding the monstrous heart of a stone killer who preys on the innocent and easily manipulated.
Returning to Caldwell College sixteen years after graduation - and a murder that devastates the campus - Mark Darrow responds to the request of his former mentor, Provost Dr. Lionel Farr. The president of the college has apparently embezzled college funds, and Farr is hoping Darrow can restore order and rebuild the reputation of the institution.
Still grieving the untimely death of his pregnant wife, Darrow is happy to consider a change of scene even though he is still haunted by the murder sixteen years ago: a young female student found dead at the foot of the spire, the iconic piece of architecture at an otherwise unmemorable institution. Yet Darrow loves Caldwell, hopeful of restoring it to a former, if minor, glory.
This is the kind of mystery the author does best. An innocuous place hides the heart of darkness, the spire a symbol of the campus and the marker of the young woman’s grave. Unfortunately, Darrow’s best friend has spent the last years in prison for that murder. Mark has never believed Steve Tillman committed the crime but also harbors a secret shared only with his mentor that causes him to doubt his friend’s veracity.
Initially planning only to focus on the embezzlement, Darrow finds himself running two parallel investigations, increasingly curious about the testimony of the prosecution’s star witness the night of the murder, key to convicting Tillman, albeit circumstantially. Darrow’s mission is further complicated by his growing affection for Farr’s daughter, Taylor, who was only a child at the time of the murder but now is a beautiful, accomplished woman.
Patterson weaves together the past and the present, simple affection and loyalty, and the deception of a monster that has hidden himself on the quiet campus in a mystery that is compelling though sometimes logically strained. The resolution is both shocking and ugly, Darrow facing the most difficult truth of his life. And the spire stands over all, silent witness to the relentless evil of a twisted soul.