The Professor

by Lauren Nossett

Publisher:  Pan Macmillan 2024

Publisher’s blurb

Ethan Haddock is discovered in his apartment, dead, apparently by his own hand. His professor is taken in for questioning, and rumours swirl that his death is the result of a student-teacher bad romance. The story hits the media, an investigation is opened, the professor is suspended, and social media crusaders and trolls alike are out for blood.

Marlitt Kaplan has never investigated love affairs. A former detective turned research assistant; she misses the excitement of her old job. When her mother, a colleague of the accused professor, asks for her help, Marlitt finds herself in the impossible position of proving something didn’t happen.

Without the authority to interview suspects or access phone records, she will have to get closer to a victim’s life than ever before. But will she get too close to see the truth?
A tale of ambition, lies, obsession and murder.


by Cheryl Fairclough

The Professor is a story of obsession (with a person, with identity, with a career, with the pursuit of truth) and the dark places to which this can take fractured people. 

It is a novel that at first teases you as to whether there is even a mystery at all or a straightforward tragedy.  Then it sucks you in to care about the main characters and outcome; and to worry whether they will all survive it. Along the way you will even do the reader equivalent of shouting at the television, thinking ‘I can’t believe you think this is a good idea! No, no!’  Yet this is a book with almost no physical violence. It is the growing sense of psychological threat and disintegration that ratchets up the tension and carries the reader through to the final unexpected twist. 

The author Lauren Nossett has set this mystery in a real-life location on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia; and, like herself, one of her pivotal main characters (Dr Verena Sobek) is a professor of German literature.  So, it is not surprising that the setting, the campus politics and the lives of the student characters all ring true.

The main ‘investigator’ of the mystery is former police detective Marlitt Kaplan, who made her debut in Lauren’s first novel, The Resemblance. At the start of The Professor, the second book in the series, Marlitt is off the force in disgrace due to her vigilante-like approach. She has been physically and psychologically scarred by a violent and traumatic incident.  The author successfully walks the fine line between hinting at those events, which have left Marlitt desperate to regain her sense of self, and not giving away the plot of the first book to new readers like me. 

The Professor is written in three alternating voices.  Most of the story is told chronologically in the first person by Marlitt. Her account is interspersed with short chapters labelled ‘Her’ that are the first-person thoughts and experiences of Professor Verena; and shorter third person episodes labelled ‘Him’ that describe the thoughts and actions of the increasingly obsessed male character. This framework works well, avoiding confusion and building the tension. 

All the main characters are drawn clearly and powerfully.  While Marlitt narrates the events that lead her and the reader in a twist of directions, the author lets us also see Marlitt’s blind spots and the issues that are deeper than the ones she admits to herself.  Verena’s musings are dark and at times desperate; and we are aware that she does not truly understand the depth of danger for self-destruction.  The male voice begins with subtle hints of obsession and then grows in neediness and flashes of anger.  We have a sense that tragedy is inevitable. 

Lauren Nossett plays fair with the reader and the mystery’s clues are seeded throughout; though I am happy to admit I went back afterwards and saw where I had been subtly led astray by her feeding my assumptions. I agree with Karin Slaughter that this is a thoroughly gripping mystery.  I’m off to get The Resemblance, the first in this series and am hoping there will be a Book Three.