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The Truants
Cover of The Truants
The Truants
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One of the New York Times Book Review's Top Ten Best Crime Novels of 2020One of USA Today's Best Books 2020"[A] hypnotic debut. . . .[An] uncommonly clever whodunit."—New York Times Book ReviewPerfect...
One of the New York Times Book Review's Top Ten Best Crime Novels of 2020One of USA Today's Best Books 2020"[A] hypnotic debut. . . .[An] uncommonly clever whodunit."—New York Times Book ReviewPerfect...
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  • One of the New York Times Book Review's Top Ten Best Crime Novels of 2020
    One of USA Today's Best Books 2020
    "[A] hypnotic debut. . . .[An] uncommonly clever whodunit."—New York Times Book Review
    Perfect for lovers of Agatha Christie and The Secret History, The Truants is a seductive, unsettling, and beautifully written debut novel of literary suspense—a thrilling exploration of deceit, first love, and the depths to which obsession can drive us.

    People disappear when they most want to be seen.
    Jess Walker has come to a concrete campus under the flat gray skies of East Anglia for one reason: to be taught by the mesmerizing and rebellious Dr. Lorna Clay, whose seminars soon transform Jess's thinking on life, love, and Agatha Christie. Swept up in Lorna's thrall, Jess falls in with a tightly knit group of rule-breakers—Alec, a courageous South African journalist with a nihilistic streak; Georgie, a seductive, pill-popping aristocrat; and Nick, a handsome geologist with layers of his own.
    But the dynamic between the friends begins to darken, until a tragedy shatters their friendships and love affairs, and reveals a terrible secret. Soon Jess must face the question she fears most: what is the true cost of an extraordinary life?
    An Entertainment Weekly Best Book of January
    A USA Today Must-Read Book of Winter
    An Observer Book of the Year (UK)
    A Marie Claire Top 5 Christmas Read (UK)
    A Times Best New Crime Novel (UK)
    A Guardian Top 10 Golden Age Detective Novel
    An Irish Times Best Debut of 2019
    An Apple Books Pick for January

Excerpts-

  • From the book

    Chapter 1

     

    Dear Dr. Clay,

     

    Having been ill for most of Freshers' Week, I have only just made it down to the English department to open my mail. I was due to start your course "The Devil Has the Best Lines" next Tuesday, but a note from the administration office informs me that due to "oversubscription" my place has been deferred to "a future date as yet unknown."

     

    I am writing to tell you just how crushed I am by this news. Since I first read your masterpiece The Truants I have considered your scorching and irreverent commentary as something of a manifesto for life. I applied to this university purely so that I could be taught by you, and on receiving a place immediately requested to study in either of the modules that you offer this term. Since my place in "The Devil Has the Best Lines" was confirmed at the beginning of the summer I have completed the reading list, including a full immersion in the gin-soaked minds of Hunter S. Thompson, Zelda Fitzgerald, and John Cheever.

     

    I did this mainly in the back room of a pet shop in Reigate where I took a job this summer, cleaning shit out of budgerigar and hamster cages so that I could finance my studies. All of which was made bearable by the idea of being taught by you.

     

    So this news is a blow indeed. Considering we have not yet met I can't understand what I have done . . .

     

    Someone knocked on the door. I ignored it and carried on typing furiously.

     

    . . . that makes me suddenly less desirable or eligible than another student . . .

     

    More knocking.

     

    It feels, to paraphrase a famous poem, like someone is treading all over my dreams. I am writing this letter as a last-ditch attempt, an appeal to your humanity . . .

     

    The door banged open. A blond guy with lazy, knowing eyes in a handsome face. Mark, or maybe Max. Second year. Historian. Let's say Max.

     

    For a moment he stared at me in confusion. Then his gaze moved from where I was sitting cross-legged on the bed and roved suspiciously over the contents of the room: bare, Blu Tack-scarred walls, narrow single bed, small hanging wardrobe, my half-unpacked suitcase.

     

    "Sorry, wrong room." He had already turned to go when he twisted round, hand on the doorframe. "Hey . . . Didn't we meet in the bar last night?"

     

    I nodded, biting back a sarcastic comment. I have lots of very curly, long dark hair, a wide mouth, and quite a slight figure: Boys notice me briefly, I think, then look elsewhere. Max had patently introduced himself-walking toward me, smiling straight into my eyes-in the hope of chatting up Georgie. A moment of deference toward the friend of the target . . . I knew the score. It had already happened a couple of times last night, enough to make me suspect that my new friend was one of those girls that men find irresistible. Something about her almost too-curvy body, her boyishly cropped blond hair, her sloping, sleepy eyes made everyone-even me-think about sex.

     

    "So, Georgie's a good friend of yours?" Max said, sitting down on the end of my bed and pushing back a fringe of newly washed hair.

     

    "Kind of." If it hadn't been for the letter I'd just been writing, I might have been amused by being used so transparently. Tapping out the end of my sentence, I signed off with a digital flourish: Yours, ever-hopeful, Jessica Walker.

     

    "You weren't at school together or anything?"

     

    "Why do you ask?"

     

    "Just wondering. Girls are so tight with girls they've met at school. You...

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    September 15, 2019
    A group of friends at a British college, all connected to the same charismatic scholar of Agatha Christie's work, are torn apart by secrets and deceptions. When Jess Walker begins to contemplate going to college, there is only one clear choice: She has to attend the university where Dr. Lorna Clay teaches. Lorna is the author of The Truants, a brilliant work arguing that great artists must destroy their personal lives to create, which has captured Jess' imagination ever since she was given the book by her uncle. Once Jess starts college in East Anglia, she strikes up a friendship with Georgie, a wealthy socialite with a proclivity to dipping into her mother's pill drawer; Alec, a 20-something white South African journalist on fellowship at the university; and Nick, a geology student who quickly falls for Jess. A middle child from a farming village, Jess instantly feels her life become more vibrant in the company of her exotic companions. And at the head of it all is the brilliant Lorna, who permeates the boundaries of their lives as students to attend their parties and become their confidante and, eventually, their friend, especially to Jess, who wants to follow in Lorna's footsteps professionally and personally. But as the relationships among the five become more and more tangled, a tragedy suddenly shatters their lives, forcing Jess to confront the illusory nature of really knowing another. Aside from some slight plausibility issues (if only teenagers' lives were changed by works of literary scholarship!), Weinberg has written one of the best thriller debuts in recent years, with all the cleverness of Ruth Ware (and, yes, even Christie herself) and a dash of Donna Tartt's edgy darkness. Though Christie fans may be particularly delighted, this propulsive, pitch-perfect thriller has something for everyone.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 21, 2019
    Jessica Walker, the 19-year-old narrator of British author Weinberg’s promising but uneven debut, enrolls at a university in East Anglia to study under prize-winning writer Lorna Clay, best known for The Truants, a book that argues debauchery is fundamental to artistic brilliance. Lorna’s current focus is the “rescue” of Agatha Christie and other female authors who have been “dismissed from the canon as irrelevant.” The semester starts strong, with Jess impressing Lorna and finding friends who also subscribe to the charismatic professor’s hedonistic philosophies. Jess, fellow English major Georgie, South African journalist and visiting fellow Alec, and second-year geology student Nick are initially inseparable, but then triangles form and jealousies flare. When betrayal finally tears the group apart, Jess turns to Lorna for advice and support; as it happens, though, Lorna has secrets and an agenda of her own. Weinberg writes incisively and evocatively about infatuation, heartbreak, and grief, but what begins as a tense, taut, character-driven slow burn succumbs to coincidence and melodrama. Weinberg aims high, but misses her mark. Agent: Allison Hunter, Janklow & Nesbit (U.K.).

  • Library Journal

    November 1, 2019

    DEBUT This first novel opens as main character Jess chooses her college in East Anglia owing to her obsession with literature professor Lorna Gray, who wrote the blockbuster book The Truants, arguing that artists must break societal rules to foster their creativity. During her first term, Jess enrolls in Lorna's seminar about Agatha Christie and is encouraged to explore the meaning behind Christie's mysterious 11-day disappearance. (The Christie angle adds a unique twist but feels a bit contrived.) Jess is equally captivated by her reckless friend Georgie and irresistibly drawn toward Georgie's dangerous boyfriend Alec, despite her involvement with the nice but unexciting Nick. Will Jess follow Lorna's advice and risk everything to follow her heart? And are any of the people Jess admires really what they seem? VERDICT Though the outlines of the story are familiar, Jess is eminently sympathetic and likable, and Weinberg skillfully depicts the headiness of the transition to college life. The ending feels needlessly protracted, however, as Jess spends several years during and after college (and following what should be the climax of the novel) attempting to solve the mystery of what happened her first year. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/19.]--Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from December 1, 2019
    Jess Walker was drawn into Dr. Lorna Clay's orbit the first time she cracked open Clay's The Truants, a compelling literary exploration of John Cheever, Zelda Fitzgerald, and their gin-soaked contemporaries. Clay's words sparked something deep inside Jess, pulling her to a university in dreary East Anglia solely to study under the scholar. Academic hero worship is a particular thing, but Jess never expected to form more than a studious acquaintanceship with Clay. She's quickly singled out, however, as one of the professor's favorites, which opens a door into a privileged and mysterious world Jess never could have imagined. With intrigue sparking throughout, Weinberg's immensely compelling debut novel explores the years-long reverberations of a fractured friend group and echoes Donna Tartt's The Secret History (1992), Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004), Richard Russo's Straight Man (1997), and Katie Lowe's The Furies (2019). The mystery at the novel's core befits Agatha Christie, another academic focus of Clay's, and unravels at a nearly perfect pace. Spanning Jess's university years and beyond, this slow burn of a novel explores the headiness of favoritism and the danger in meeting one's heroes.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

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