cover image The Finalists

The Finalists

David Bell. Berkley, $17 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-593-19870-4

In this lackluster mash-up of Clue and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None from Bell (Kill All Your Darlings), six students compete for a lucrative scholarship at Kentucky’s small, family-funded Hyde College. They must relinquish all electronic devices before being sequestered for one day in a remote, decaying building on campus. From nine to four, overseen by obsequious Troy Gaines, the college’s “vice president for institutional development,” and irascible Nicholas Hyde, a descendant of the college’s 19th-century founder, the six candidates expect to take a written exam followed by interviews judged on “comportment, presentation, and communication.” Early on, one of the front-runners appears to have been poisoned by the welcoming tea and biscuits. When another in the group convulses and dies, the survivors point fingers and plan their escape, though they’re thwarted by shatter-resistant windows that have been nailed shut. Meanwhile, unruly environmental protestors outside the building threaten the safety of the frightened, dwindling band. Bland, unsympathetic characters match the ludicrous plot, which thickens when combustible materials in the basement foreshadow an obvious over-the-top incendiary conclusion. Bell has done better. Agent: Laney Katz Becker, Massie & McQuilkin. (July)