Date of Release: Tuesday, July 6, 2021
When a student disappears and is presumed dead, her professor passes off her manuscript as his own–only to find out it implicates him in an unsolved murder in this new thriller from the USA Today bestselling author of The Request.
After years of struggling to write following the deaths of his wife and son, English professor Connor Nye publishes his first novel, a thriller about the murder of a young woman.
There’s just one problem: Connor didn’t write the book. His missing student did. And then she appears on his doorstep, alive and well, threatening to expose him.
Connor’s problems escalate when the police insist details in the novel implicate him in an unsolved murder from two years ago. Soon Connor discovers the crime is part of a disturbing scandal on campus and faces an impossible dilemma–admit he didn’t write the book and lose his job or keep up the lie and risk everything. When another murder occurs, Connor must clear his name by unraveling the horrifying secrets buried in his student’s manuscript.
This is a suspenseful, provocative novel about the sexual harassment that still runs rampant in academia–and the lengths those in power will go to cover it up.
If there is one thing I know, it’s that I will read a book by David Bell each summer, love it and want to share my opinion about it with the world!
“Kill All Your Darlings” is yet another novel written by David Bell that began my summer with the sizzling temptation to flip the pages because I had to know the answers to his wicked mind tricks, keeping me up late until the night.
This is a truly incendiary storyline with a constant rousing of suspicion that I could actually feel my blood heat up!
The whodunit was rattling me! The wanting a certain someone to be innocent was so powerful! The Dog comforting the protagonist!! This was an inspiring recipe for success!
I couldn’t recommend this book more. Make your summer #ADavidBellSummer
I received a copy of this book from Berkley Books via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Now that it’s out, I feel agitated, restless. My thoughts are a jumble. “Do you want a drink or something?” I ask. “I think I need bourbon.”
“Sure,” she says. “I always drank when you paid.”
I go back out to the kitchen, Grendel at my heels. It’s cold out, and I’d turned the heat down when I left the house. But I feel flushed, sweaty. Almost like I have a fever. I open the corner cabinet and take down a bottle of Rowan’s Creek and two glasses. When Jake was born, twenty years ago, Emily’s brother gave me a bottle of Rowan’s Creek, so whenever I drink it, I think of my son. My hand shakes as I pour.
Grendel starts eating. I hear his chomping in the corner.
“You were drinking a lot when I last saw you.”
I turn toward Madeline. She’s standing in the doorway from the living room, leaning against the jamb.
“I was,” I say. “I’ve cut back. A lot. I had to.” I hand her the glass, trying to control the trembling. “But I think I could use one or maybe two tonight.”
“I guess it isn’t every day that a ghost shows up in your house.”
I swallow and lean back against the counter. “They looked for you, Madeline. Searches all over campus and town. It was on the news. Some people thought you just up and ran off on a whim. Some students do that. Impulse trips.”
“Some kids can afford to do that.”
“Right. But they looked in your apartment. You left all your books and clothes behind. You were an excellent student, anhonors student, a few months away from getting a degree. And you stopped coming to class. The police questioned everybodywho’d had any contact with you, including me. Especially mebecause we were all at the bar that night.”
“And I left Dubliners right after you did.”
“Right. Some of this is fuzzy. How I got home . . . how I evenman- aged to get my key in the lock and get inside . . . I kind of think you came with me . . . but I don’t know how far . . .”
“Out in the living room you were talking about the book,” shesays, arms crossed, glass in front of her. “After you read it andwanted to talk to me and I was gone.”
I finish my first glass and pour another. This is it, I tell myself. Just two drinks.
“You know I have to publish to get tenure,” I say. “That’s theway to survive in academia.”
“I’ve heard about that.” “Publish or perish, they call it.” “It sounds awfully bleak.”
“It can be,” I say. “And I hadn’t published anything in the sevenyears I’d been here. That book of stories Autumn Sunset cameout when I was still in graduate school, so it didn’t count. If youdon’t get tenure, you get fired. And if I didn’t get tenure here, I probably wouldn’t get hired anywhere else. They’d see I failedto produce, and no one would touch me. Why would they want a middle-aged guy with a huge blank spot in his publicationrecord?”
“You could tell them about your family,” Madeline says.
“Sure. And the university here gave me an extra year for bereavement. I still couldn’t produce a book or even a few stories.” Grendel appears to be finished eating. He slurps some water, shakes his head, and goes back out to his perch on thecouch. “Dr. White, the department chair, is a pretty good friend.And he really looked out for me. But he could only do so much. And he was really on me, reminding me what was at stake. He kept telling me, ‘Just produce something, Connor.’”
“No pressure, right? Hurry up and write an entire book whileyou’re grieving.”
“Life goes on at some point.” I drink some more. “The worlddoesn’t stop forever. Six months had passed after youdisappeared. Six months. No one really said it out loud, but everybody was thinking the same thing. After a few days—a week, really—people were thinking the worst had happened. That you weren’t coming back. That you were dead. Murdered. Even your mom said it in an interview she did with the local paper. Does she know you’re—”
“I’ll call her soon,” Madeline says, her voice sharp. “You just finish telling me about the book and how all of this happened.”
We’ve reversed roles. She’s asking the questions. She’s playing the part of authority figure. And I feel compelled to answer herand give a full accounting of myself.
“I had your book,” I say. “Almost all handwritten. And you were gone. And I had an agent interested in my writing from years ago, although I wasn’t even sure she still knew I existed. I tookyour handwrit- ten book and retyped it on my computer.”
“You gave me a hard time about turning in a handwritten draft. I told you my computer died.”
“It turned out to be to my advantage. I made some of therevisions as I went along. I kept telling myself I wasn’t going to send it anywhere, that I was just going to type the book out as anexercise, a way to get my own creative juices flowing again. Butthe deadline was coming up for my tenure review. And I really wasn’t sure how I would handle it if I lost this job. On top ofeverything else, to be unemployed with nowhere to go.”
Madeline shows concern as she listens. She’s nodding,encouraging me to keep talking. And it feels good, really good,to finally unburden myself of the secret I’ve been carrying around for the past eighteen months. Even if I am unburdeningmyself to the person most directly harmed by my actions.
“It’s so hard to get a book published,” I say. “What are thechances for anyone? It was a whim. A Hail Mary play. But my agent loved the story. And within a few weeks, an editor lovedit. And bought it. I kept telling myself to speak up, to tell them itwasn’t mine. But the train just kept gathering momentum and . .. I have to be honest . . . after every- thing that had gone wrong for me, after all my struggles with writing, to hear people sayingsuch nice things felt really, really good.”
I look at her, and she swallows some of her bourbon. The lookon her face has shifted, from concern and understanding tosomething I can’t really read. Her eyes look flat and cold, palemarbles staring back at me.
“I’m sorry, Madeline,” I say. “I really am.”
She takes her time responding, and then says, “Don’t worry. Ididn’t show up here without a plan for how you’ll make this allright.”
“Excerpted from KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS by David Bell, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by David Bell”
A Conversation with David Bell:
How would you describe KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS?
KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS is a fast-paced thriller that tells the story of Connor Nye, a creative writing professor who is struggling to get over the death of his wife and son in an accident. One of his best students turns in an honors thesis—a novel—and then disappears and is presumed dead. Connor passes the book off as his own, and then the student turns up very much alive. And then the police show up because the book Connor passed off as his own implicates him in an unsolved cold case murder. Things get worse from there.
You’ve written over ten novels, while also being a college professor. Why now did you decide to write a story set on a college campus? What inspired you to write the book?
I’ve had the idea for this novel in the back of my head for a long time. Years. And I’ve tried on a few different occasions to get it off the ground and never could get it right. Finally, I cracked the code and went for it in 2021. Since I’m a professor at a university, I think about the academic world all the time. And since I’m a suspense writer who produces a book every year I’m always on the lookout for a good story. It was inevitable I’d set one on a campus.
During my time as a graduate student and then as a professor, I’ve seen more than one case of a professor abusing their power and pursuing inappropriate relationships with their students. I’ve seen the toll this takes on the students and the entire community. We’ve made progress on this issue, but it hasn’t gone away, so I hope my book calls attention to the problem while it also entertains the reader.
How do you think KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS differs from your previous books?
The subject matter and setting are different. More than anything, I wanted to push myself in the way the story is told. The book uses multiple points of view and goes back and forth in time, and these are techniques I’ve never employed to this extent before. However, I thought the story—which is complex and tangled—could only be told in such an unusual way. Each of the characters knows a part of the story, and the events stretch across time with the past very much affecting the present. Telling the story this way certainly created challenges for me because it meant a lot of balls were in the air. So I had to learn to juggle as I went along.
While writing the book did you come across anything in writing about campus life that surprised you? Did you interview anyone for the book to get some ideas on how to characterize anyone?
Obviously, I know the academic world very well since I’ve been working in it so long. It’s a unique setting, rather different than other workplaces. As I developed the idea for the book, I did speak to some of my colleagues and some of my students, asking them if they had experiences that were similar to the ones I was going to be writing about. I was surprised to learn that so many people I know have experienced or witnessed the kind of harassment that is depicted in the book. I’m not exactly a Pollyanna, but I was still surprised. And not in a good way.
In KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS, some of Connor’s colleagues look down at him writing a mystery novel. You’re currently the head of the creative writing program—has anyone ever thought that you “ought” to be writing the next “Great American Novel” instead of mysteries or thrillers?
Hey, who says the “Great American Novel”—whatever that is—can’t be a mystery or a thriller? I tell you what, if it was a mystery or a thriller, a heck of a lot more people would read it. And they wouldn’t be bored by it. But to answer the question, yes, there is absolutely a snobbish attitude among a fair number of my academic brethren when it comes to writing anything that might be remotely popular or accessible. At the same time, I have plenty of colleagues who not only read my books but they also read the work of other thriller writers. As I always tell my students, don’t write what you think other people want you to write. Write what you want to write. We can only follow our own paths and not worry about others.
Your protagonist Connor develops great rapport with his students, how have some of your students reacted to your books when they’ve read them?
Some people assume that all of my students would read my books. The truth is I have plenty of students who probably have no idea that I’ve written or published any books. But some students read them and tell me they enjoy them. I have a rule—I don’t count it as a real compliment if a student praises one of my books while they’re in my class. That strikes me as an easy way to score brownie points. Now if a student compliments one of my books years after they’ve graduated and I can no longer give them a grade, I take that to be sincere.
Since being in a college classroom for 16 years, how have you seen the dynamics of college change?
In many ways, things don’t change. I’m not sure students are vastly different now than they were when I was in college back during the Revolutionary War. Certain things are universal. Students are trying to figure out who they are and what they’re going to do. They worry about their grades. They like to have a good time—too good sometimes. They want to fall in love.
But many things are different. Technology for one. There was no social media when I was in school. (Thank the Lord.) It barely existed when I started teaching. More than anything else, I think the economics of college continue to get worse, and the book reflects this. It’s harder and harder for working and middle class students to pay their way. Madeline O’Brien is one of those students struggling to get by. She has to work long hours at a job in a grocery store in order to come close to keeping her head above water. As someone who went through school on student loans and financial aid, I understand, but I think the costs are getting further and further out of control. Let’s face it, even the professors have a hard time getting by on shrinking salaries. The financial picture is bleak
As I said above, we’ve made progress in terms of how students are treated on campus. And we’ve taken steps to eliminate harassing behavior. But change only comes completely when people are aware, and I think—among some people—there is a tendency to say, “Hey, we had the MeToo movement so there’s no more harassment.” That’s absolutely not true. In my own small way, I’m trying to call attention to this issue while also writing an entertaining thriller. And the book is a reminder that students are vulnerable in a lot of ways, and those in power have an obligation to protect them.
What do you think readers who are entering college now would find surprising when reading KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS versus and readers who have been out of college for a while?
I think it would be the amount of pressure on the students. It’s not just the things that happen in the classroom. It’s the tremendous economic pressure so many students and their families face. It’s the profound worry about what the future is going to look like. All of these pressures take a toll on the mental health of the students. And colleges themselves are facing enormous economic pressures as states cut funding and invest less in our educational system. Something needs to change, but I’m not sure it will.
David Bell is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning suspense novelist. His most recent thriller from Berkley/Penguin is KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS. His previous novels include THE REQUEST, LAYOVER, SOMEBODY’S DAUGHTER, BRING HER HOME, SINCE SHE WENT AWAY, SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW, THE FORGOTTEN GIRL, NEVER COME BACK, THE HIDING PLACE, and CEMETERY GIRL. He is currently a Professor of English at Western Kentucky University and can be reached via his website at www.davidbellnovels.com, on Twitter at Twitter.com/davidbellnovels, and on Facebook at Facebook.com/davidbellnovels.