It isn't easy to come up with a mystery that keeps readers compulsively turning pages, so give first-time novelist Will Lavender credit for anchoring his book Obedience to a gripping premise. At a small Southern college, three students with troubled pasts sign up for a "Logic & Reasoning" class, taught by a professor no one seems to know much about. On the first days, Professor Williams proposes a hypothetical: There's this girl named Polly, who's disappeared from her home, and if the students can't figure out what happened to her, she's going to die by the end of the term. Mary Butler, a fastidious overachiever, takes it upon herself to do extra research into the case, and discovers that it mirrors the real-life abduction of another girl, who has ties to Professor Williams. Mary researches the professor as well, and discovers he was involved in a plagiarism scandal a decade ago, and has been a recluse ever since. Then, in the midst of her investigation, Mary is invited to a class party at Williams' home, and on her way out the door, the hostess hands her a note that reads: "None of this is real. I AM NOT HIS WIFE."
As a mind-game, Obedience is superior, but as literature, it falls a little short. Though Lavender is a college professor himself, he only gets the classroom descriptions right; his characters don't really talk or act like recognizable college students. Obedience's story, too—like nearly all good mindbenders—takes a turn toward the ludicrous once it has to unkink itself at the end. Still, there's enough going on below the surface to make Obedience more than just a diverting puzzle. This is a mystery for the Google Age, about what happens when the answers we're expecting to find aren't a mouse-click away—or what happens when they're incomplete, or misleading. Obedience is a cautionary tale about teacher-student trust, peppered with some vivid warnings to Lavender's future classes about why he probably won't let them cite Wikipedia as a source on term papers.