On a beautiful spring day, six college students with nothing in common besides a desperate inability to pay for school gather to compete for the prestigious Hyde Fellowship.
James–The rule follower.
Emily–The social justice warrior.
The six of them must surrender their devices when they enter Hyde House, an aging Victorian structure that sits in a secluded part of campus.
Once inside, the doors lock behind them. The students are not allowed to leave until they spend eight hours with a college administrator who will do almost anything to keep the school afloat and Nicholas Hyde, the privileged and notoriously irresponsible heir to the Hyde family fortune. If the students leave before time is up, they’ll be immediately disqualified.
But when one of the six finalists drops dead, the other students fear they’re being picked off one by one. With a violent protest raging outside and no way to escape, the survivors viciously turn on each other.
The Finalists is a chilling and profound look at the lengths both students and colleges will go to survive in a resource-starved academic world.
Locked room mysteries always grab my attention, and I’ve come across a few of them recently. I’m not a stranger to David Bell novels, so I was anxious to see what he did with this scenario.
A college administrator whose job (and possibly the future of the school) depends on bringing in a large donation, six students desperate to find a way to pay for their education, and a privileged heir who funds the highly desired fellowship and shows up half drunk on the morning of the event. That’s a lot of potential for conflict – and I didn’t even mention the group of protestors greeting the participants upon arrival. Once the phones are surrendered and the doors are locked from the outside, it’s not long before the first body drops. This seems like a highly unlikely situation that requires a gigantic suspension of disbelief, and I’m sure you’re asking some of the same questions I did – Why can’t they break a window? Why wouldn’t someone have an emergency phone? Why couldn’t they bust down a door or find another exit? Undoubtedly, most readers will also wonder how the participants can cover the bodies and continue with the competition. The author provides answers to all these questions, and the house becomes a nearly impenetrable escape room.
The coveted fellowship provides tuition, books, room and board, and a job after graduation – definitely a prize worth winning. All of these students have strong motives for killing off the competition, and I changed my mind about the identity of the culprit in nearly every chapter. And I still had it wrong until close to the end. It doesn’t take long before the students turn on each other, and there’s a lot of squabbling, suspicion, and shifting loyalties among them.
Issues of privilege, the difficulties of financing education, and the struggles schools undergo to obtain donations are all mentioned in the novel, and it’s a sad reality. With fairly short chapters, this is a quick read and one that will keep mystery and suspense fans guessing.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.