The Mentor by Lee Matthew Goldberg is a twisty, nail-biting thriller that explores how the love of words can lead to a deadly obsession with the fate of all those connected hanging in the balance.
Bentley College Professor William Lansing shoots a question out to his students, “Why does Meursault insist to the chaplain that he didn’t know what a sin was?” (Meursault is the protagonist from The Stranger, a Nobel winner in literature, written by acclaimed author Albert Camus.) Lansing scans his classroom to find the usual assortment of the bored and the clueless. William eventually supplies his own definitive answer:
“Expressing remorse would constitute his actions as wrong. He knows his views make him a stranger to society, and he is content with this judgment. He accepts death and looks forward to it with peace. The crowds will cheer hatefully at his beheading, but they will be cheering. This is what captivates the readers seventy years after the book’s publication. What keeps it and Camus eternal, immortal.”
Kyle Broder, ten years previous, was one of the students who not only got it but found a helping hand in William, who led the drug-addled young man away from the substances that were destroying a promising future. Kyle went on to work as an editor at Burke & Burke, a major publishing house. Most recently, he has discovered a hot new author with all the chops to go the distance. Movie deals have already been signed, and Kyle basks in his early success.
William reads about Kyle’s triumph in the paper and decides to take a chance by asking his former protégé if he would be interested in the novel he’s been working on for ten years called Devil’s Hopyard. A magnum opus clocking in at 1,000 pages, Kyle is delighted at the prospects of working with the man who changed his life—a mentor that helped make him the man he had become. He invites William to his home to introduce him to his girlfriend, Jamie. They catch up over a bottle of vino, and Kyle showers him with gratitude for all that he did to guide his life.
Stoked to read Devil’s Hopyard, Kyle tears into it the following day and finds an uneven start, to say the least:
Maybe just the first few pages were wonky and then the real story would begin? Kyle decided to flip to a passage toward the end.
And taste the FLESH and the FLESH tastes like love and the heart has been digested and beats inside of ME now. It gives me power. I am powerful with her organ. And the body has been discarded and left to rot, and sometimes I dig it up for more, more, MORE!!! And then I shit her out of me until her FLESH stinks up the bathroom.
Kyle dropped the pages onto the table. He had a terrible taste on the back of his tongue.
“What the fuck…?” he said.
Maybe it’s being an editor who has read my share of the dreadful, but I busted a gut laughing at Kyle’s predicament. There are god-awful written stories, and then there are the inane god-awful stories from which William’s descends. The professor can be filed under the Dunning-Kruger effect in which a person is too incompetent to grasp his own incompetence.
For Kyle, with great regret, he turns down his mentor only for the man to become an obsessed loon who tries to destroy Kyle’s personal and professional life. As Kyle’s life becomes a swirling hell, he turns back to reading the manuscript for answers and gets that sinking, stomach-wrenching feeling that he’s reading a psychopath’s confession, of sorts, to a missing girl’s case years before.
Like the lush Sequoia Grove Cambium red wine that William first shares with Kyle and Jamie, The Mentor is a rich, rewarding thriller that offers plenty of suspense and a few satirical laughs. Since The Stranger is referenced more than once, I’m reminded of the perfect Camus quote to end this review:
“A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession.”
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.