Authors: Lori Rader-Day
Published 2014 by Seventh Street Books™, an imprint of Prometheus Books
The Black Hour
. Copyright © 2014 by Lori Rader-Day. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and is not intended by the author.
Cover image by Matt Frankel
Cover design by Nicole Sommer-Lecht
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Seventh Street Books
59 John Glenn Drive
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
Rader-Day, Lori, 1973-
The black hour / by Lori Rader-Day.
ISBN 978-1-61614-885-0 (paperback)
ISBN 978-1-61614-886-7 (ebook)
1. Women college teachers—Fiction. 2. Teachers’ assistants—Fiction. 3. College teachers—Crimes against—Fiction. 4. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
The Black Hour
is the rarest of mysteries: one that wants to keep you turning pages in a cold sweat, suspecting every character you meet of both the best and the worst motives; and also one that has something complicated and important to say about the forces that impel us toward death . . . and life. It’s an extraordinary debut, marking the arrival of a major new voice in literary suspense.”
—Christopher Coake, PEN/Bingham Award–winning author of
You Came Back
“Lori Rader-Day’s debut
The Black Hour
is the perfect thriller—smart, tense, and foreboding. Every page left me hungry for the next.”
—Clare O’Donohue, author of
Life without Parole
“In her debut psychological thriller Lori Rader-Day joins the ranks of Barbara Vine and Sophie Hannah. Examining the deep complexities of damaged people, she teases and tempts the reader as she leads to her harrowing conclusion.”
—Terry Shames, author of
The Last Death of Jack Harbin
“So often, mysteries set in academe are populated by ivy-draped eccentrics with a terminal case of the cutes. Lori Rader-Day’s Rothbert U. is anything but cute: the atmosphere, for faculty and students alike, is ruthlessly competitive and mistrustful. Her characters, beginning with Amelia Emmet, are complex, capable of surprising both themselves and us. Like Barbara Vine [Ruth Rendell], Rader-Day is as interested in the
of evil things as in the
—Jincy Willett, author of
Amy Falls Down
The Black Hour
is a brilliant suspense debut, rich in psychological nuance and the cold, terrifying places where our worst fears—and darkest desires—reside. Let’s hope this is only the first of many from this talented newcomer.”
—Lynne Raimondo, author of
“Lori Rader-Day captures the angst and envy lurking behind every campus doorway. . . . Most impressive about this suspense debut: the unfolding tale of how easily an individual can goad another into hatred, suicide, or murder.”
—Susan Froetschel, author of
Fear of Beauty
My lungs clawed for air as though I were drowning. I stopped, hunched over my grandmotherly cane, gasping. The curved walk up from the parking lot stretched out before me longer than I remembered, steeper. This is how it would be. Every task more difficult than before. Every step a public performance.
That’s when I heard the camera.
I’d been expecting someone, hadn’t I? One of the lawyers, a campus cop. I always expected to be watched now. Why else had I parked not in the handicapped spot in the faculty lot but the one just next to it?
The guy with the camera was too young to be a lawyer or the police. His hair punked, his chin smooth. The student press had provided my welcoming committee.
What did I look like to this kid? From a distance, ignoring the cane, without the zoom lens, maybe I could pass for a student. A grad student. My hair swung loose and long. I’d made an effort. After ten months on the couch, I’d pulled out the good shampoo, the high heels,
The cane, though, wasn’t fooling anyone.
“Did you get a shot up my skirt—” I couldn’t chase down my breath. I readjusted my bag across my chest. “—when I was digging myself out of my car? Did you get that? Pulitzer stuff.”
He lowered the camera, paying close attention to his lens.
“You’re not the one who claimed to be my nephew in the emergency room, are you?” My face felt hot. Through the zoom lens, clutching the swan’s neck of my cane, I wouldn’t look anything like a student. Dark circles under my eyes. Shaking hands. Maybe the photographer couldn’t see that I already regretted the heels. Maybe he wasn’t really looking. “Or are you the one who prank calls me at two in the morning? Don’t get me wrong,” I said. “I’m up. The pain’s good for that.”
He looked now.
“Get my good side, OK?” I posed, both hands on the cane, chin lifted toward the lake. It sat like a blue jewel on the horizon. A beautiful day to rise from the dead.
The camera stayed silent.
“What? Are you waiting for me to drop my clothes so you can see the—”
I’d been looking forward to this day and had planned an early arrival to avoid a few stares. Hoping to get one minute with my old life before the new one caught up with me.