The Spire Review
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Two decades ago, Mark Darrow was given the chance of a lifetime. Though he had no money and no real family, he was discovered on the football field and offered a scholarship to Caldwell College. Now a successful lawyer in Boston, Mark has always felt indebted to Lionel Farr, the professor who became his mentor and friend. So when Lionel calls to ask him for a big favor—to take over as Caldwell’s president and bring the school back from an embezzlement scandal—Mark reluctantly agrees.

Once he returns to the small Ohio town where he grew up, Mark is flooded with memories, but one in particular won’t go away. Sixteen years ago, Mark found Angela Hall’s lifeless body lying at the base of the Spire, the school’s iconic bell tower. After a brief investigation, his best friend, Steve Tillman, was tried and convicted of her murder. Still convinced that Steve is innocent, Mark finds himself digging up the case and conducting his own investigation—but not everyone at Caldwell is interested in digging up the past.

The Spire is an ambitious novel, spanning 20 years of relationships, memories, and mysteries. Still, author Richard North Patterson makes it flow together, transitioning effortlessly from Mark’s past to his present—and from the 16-year-old murder case to the present-day embezzlement investigation against Mark’s predecessor. There are two mysteries to be solved and a number of stories to be told—yet it never feels heavy or needlessly complex.

At times, though, Patterson seems to get bogged down in a romantic subplot involving Mark and Lionel Farr’s daughter, Taylor. It often feels like a distraction from the more interesting parts of the story, though it does play an important part in the plot, often tying the past and present together and helping Mark to connect more of the dots and he and Taylor reconnect and reminisce.

While the characters and their relationships make the story interesting, however, the city itself makes it even more fascinating. The Spire doesn’t take place in New York or Los Angeles—and Caldwell isn’t a big, faceless university. Instead, the story takes place in a small Midwestern town, at a small Midwestern college, where everyone knows everybody else (and where everyone knows everybody else’s business). The small-town, small-school dynamic adds to the feeling of intimacy—perhaps even lending a feeling of claustrophobia. Here, no one is anonymous. Everyone has a story, a history, a reputation. People have their beliefs, their prejudices, their collective opinion. And all of that plays a significant part in the story.

The Spire is a haunting, suspenseful, and carefully crafted story—one that will easily hold your attention for hours at a time during your next road trip. And if that road trip happens to take you through the Midwest, it’s sure to inspire you to make frequent stops at small-town diners, just to soak in the surroundings.

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