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The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan

The Substitute

by Nicole Lundrigan

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312541,652 (3.86)5
The Girl on the Train meets We Need to Talk About Kevin in this finely crafted page-turner about a middle-school science teacher who innocently befriends one of his students. As the small community slowly turns against him, an anonymous narrator, a person of extreme intelligence and emotional detachment, offers insight into events past and present.… (more)



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The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan is a highly recommended psychological mystery.

Warren Botts is a socially awkward man pursuing his PhD in Biology who decided to take a break from his lab. Warren accepted a position as a substitute science teacher at the middle school where the principal is his academic adviser's brother. When he notices Amanda Fuller, a student, standing by a tree in the backyard of his rental house very early one morning, he chooses to ignore her and goes for a run instead. This is the same girl who repeatedly stopped by his house asking him to help her with her science and he was advised to tell her he could help her at school but she had to stay away from his house.

When Warren returns from his run, he looks out the window and sees Amanda hasn't moved. Suddenly he notices the rope and realizes what has happened. After he calls the police with a garbled message, he clearly is the prime suspect in the girl's murder and public sentiment in the small community turns against him.

Warren's chapters alternate with the first person account of an anonymous narrator who is likely one of Warren's students and clearly the one who planned Amanda's demise. This person is a burgeoning psychopath who is extremely intelligent, but emotionally damaged, stunted, and detached from any meaningful interpersonal connections. The one exception is the younger sister nicknamed "Buddon."

As the narration progresses in the alternating chapters, it appears that the two stories are going to intersect and combine, but the truth is not revealed until the very end of the novel. The Substitute is not a nail-biting tense, fast-paced novel of suspense, but rather a slowly emerging story of two solitary people who have more in common than either of them realize. It is also an in-depth character study of these two people. The tension comes from the treatment of Warren Botts over Amanda's death and the suspicions of who the anonymous narrator is and what they might do next.

It is a beautifully written novel. Lundrigan captures Warren's obsession with numbers and counting things along with his socially awkward ineptness perfectly, while also introducing us to the chilling mind of a young psychopath. If there is any drawback to this fine novel it is due to the slow pace. (Another drawback would be the intelligence of Warren's choice to be a substitute teacher at a middle school.) Although it is a superior work of fiction, it is not a novel that compels you to stay up too late at night reading. The excellent writing, however, will help you persevere to the end. The end will be worth the time invested. It totally surprised me.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of House of Anansi Press.
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2039265117 ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Jun 24, 2017 |
I have to admit, this one took me a lot longer to get through than my normal reading speed. I’m usually through a book either in 1-2 days barring my life getting complicated but this one took 5. It’s not that it was a bad book but there’s a lot of exposition making the story slowly drawn out so I found myself losing focus at times and needing to take lots of breaks. I was determined to finish it though because the murder was done interestingly enough I had to know who did it and why.

Another interesting aspect is that the chapters switch off between the 3rd person perspective of one main character, Mr. Botts, whose story is in the present and the first person point of view who we would later learn to be the murderer. You don’t find out who the murderer is until nearly the last page. The way those chapters are written it could be the first person point of view of the main character from the other chapters or someone he’s interacting with; there just isn’t a lot of help to figure it out until the end which is a good thing because it keeps your attention in needing to know.

The entire book I kept going back and forth whether I liked it because at times it felt like there was a lot of rambling and it felt like the characters were talking just to hear themselves talk but they weren’t providing any information I cared about. Mr. Botts also gets lost in his head quite often and counts random things which takes you off on more slow tangents.

I think the problem was I had expectations from the cover and description this was going to be a very fast paced crime thriller but it’s a lot subtler than that, more like a fine wine you let breathe before you can enjoy. When I realized it wasn’t going to be the stereotypical mystery book I started again and changed my expectations because I knew when I first started I had skimmed through quite a bit trying to get to the tension building action.

Once I stopped looking for that quick, heroin like fix of junkie thrills we normally get from fast paced mystery thrillers I discovered a book rich in character development that was trying to examine a very powerful aspect of society. It was heartbreaking to understand why the murder victim was chosen even to the point I could emphasize with the murderer.

I would recommend people read this and give it chance because it is a book with a lot to offer. ( )
  ttsheehan | Feb 9, 2017 |
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