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Review: The Truants, by Kate Weinberg

Kate Weinberg’s debut novel, The Truants, appeared to great acclaim – one of the New York Times Book Review’s Top Ten Best Crime Novels of 2020 and USA Today’s Best Books 2020 amongst many other accolades.

‘An uncommonly clever whodunnit’, says the quote from the New York Times Book Review on the front cover of Kate Weinberg’s debut novel. I’d put a slightly different spin on that – to me The Truants seems to be more of a howdunnit or whydunnit.

Jess Walker – an ordinary girl from an ordinary background – arrives at university in Norfolk a week late. She’s unable to join her preferred English course, The Devil has the Best Lines, led by her literary idol Laura Clay, author of a novel called The Truants. Instead she signs up for Clay’s Agatha Christie course and in doing so comes into contact with fellow students Georgie (a wild child and seemingly the life and soul of the party), Nick (serious-minded and studious) and Alec (a charismatic former journalist from South Africa). Georgie and Alec are in a relationship, but while out running in the university grounds Jess comes across Alec with another, unidentifiable, woman (in the back of his hearse!). So begins a series of events that will entangle the four students and their lecturer in an ever-tightening web of deceit, denial and – ultimately – death.

Kate Weinberg has a knack of introducing all sorts of murder-mystery stereotypes and tropes, then gleefully subverting them, sending her characters in unexpected directions to often unexpected places, and providing an unusually satisfying – and delayed – denouement.

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