My favorite Laurie King novels are those about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes, but I’ve enjoyed her standalone novels as well, so I was glad to get a copy of her new book, Lockdown through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program even though I was a little skeptical about the premise. It turns out I was right in my hesitation. This book is not at all up to King’s usual high standards.
The book takes place at Guadalupe Middle School in California. Linda McDonald is in her first year as principal and nervously preparing for career day. The previous year, a student attacked the local district attorney during the event—this was connected with the trial of gang member “Taco” Alvarez who was suspected of killing former student Gloria Rivas and had shot Sergeant Olivia Mendez when she encountered him during an investigation into the disappearance of a witness.
On top of all that, another student, Bee Cuomo, had recently disappeared without a trace. Her friend Nick had started a social media campaign accusing her father of being behind it.
So there’s a lot going on at Guadalupe, and the first pages of the book indicate that there’s more to come, as we see a list of characters turned over to the police after “the Guadalupe Middle School incident.”
Most of the book follows the large cast of characters hour by hour through career day, starting just after midnight the night before. This tick-tock countdown method is meant, I think, to amp up the tension, but with many chapters being only a half a page or so, it ends up making the book feel choppy.
The longest chapters are flashbacks into stories that may or may not matter. We learn all about Linda’s husband Gordon, who she met when she was doing mission work in Africa. There’s a secret in his past that Linda has only intuited and that they both want to keep quiet. Also believed to me carrying a secret is Tío, the school custodian, although his history is only revealed late in the book.
The theme of career day is that life—and school—is a tapestry, with lots of disparate parts coming together to create a unified whole. And I think King was attempting to create a book that feels like a tapestry, with elements that don’t make sense in isolation but work when you step back and see the whole. And when I step back, I can see how most of the pieces fit to build tension or create mystery.
Even though I can see what King was trying to do, the total effect is something of a mess. The characters are largely unconvincing, with students seeming older than they are a lot of the time and adults seeming much younger. The stakes around career day seem weirdly high—and not just because of the previous year’s violence, which would be an understandable reason for tension. And there is simply too much going on.
I appreciate that King is trying to do something outside her usual style here. (One of the reasons her Russell/Holmes series remains fresh is that she doesn’t follow a formula.) But I can’t recommend this. She has a new Russell/Holmes book coming in spring 2018, so I’ll look forward to that instead.