A mysterious hit-and-run, a dedicated detective, and the many secrets of the privileged
Never betray the brotherhood
On a chilly November morning at the University of Georgia, a fraternity brother steps off a busy crosswalk and is struck dead by an oncoming car. More than a dozen witnesses all agree on two things: the driver looked identical to the victim, and he was smiling.
Detective Marlitt Kaplan is first on the scene. An Athens native and the daughter of a UGA professor, she knows all its shameful histories, from the skull discovered under the foundations of Baldwin Hall to the hushed-up murder-suicide in Waddel. But in the course of investigating this hit-and-run, she will uncover more chilling secrets as she explores the sprawling, interconnected Greek system that entertains and delights the university’s most elite and connected students.
The lines between Marlitt’s police work and her own past increasingly blur as Marlitt seeks to bring to justice an institution that took something precious from her many years ago. When threats against her escalate, and some long-buried secrets threaten to come to the surface, she can’t help questioning whether the corruption in Athens has run off campus and into the force and how far these brotherhoods will go to protect their own.
A detective with deep roots in the university community comes face-to-face with the worst of campus tradition and life, in this intriguing and engaging debut mystery from Nossett. The author keeps the reader guessing, raises the stakes nicely throughout the book, and delivers a satisfying mystery. I enjoyed this a lot.
We’re introduced to Detective Marlitt Kaplan in one of the most efficient character introductions I think I’ve read — certainly, I can’t recall a recent novel that managed to convey so much character-building in so little time, without being clunky. In a matter of just a few pages, I felt like I received a pretty complete picture of who Marlitt is; her motivations and dedication, certainly, but also parts of her past and upbringing that have come to inform much of her present — especially her relationship with the university (where her mother is a respected tenured professor). Detective Kaplan is a dedicated and driven investigator, with good relations with her partner and peers, as well as her boss. She is not entirely in the “breaks rules but gets results” mould, but she certainly skirts the edges of what she’s supposed to do. However, this tendency to impulsive, unorthodox action serves her and her colleagues well during the investigation at the heart of The Resemblance.
A hit-and-run at a pedestrian crossing on campus sends shockwaves through the Greek system and also the community. Questions surround the incident, as eye-witness accounts suggest that it was a doppelgänger. As Marlitt and her colleagues dig deeper into the victim’s life on campus, they dredge up all of the worst things about fraternity/sorority life — from the hazing to the objectification of women, to the warping impact that joining a fraternity can have on your worldview, to exam cheating. Also the creeping cynicism and weariness of professors (something I can relate to a little bit). It’s never preachy — rather, Nossett allows events to paint a picture, and despite Marlitt’s clear antipathy towards the Greek system (for justified reasons), we’re not being force-fed an anti-fraternity screed.
Nossett’s writing is well-crafted, and flows nicely. The characterization is well done and realistic, and there weren’t any moments that threw me out of the story. The pacing of the story was interesting, as there’s a sort-of pause in the middle — not because nothing happens, but because events force Marlitt to step away from the investigation for a short while (I didn’t see it coming). The story offered some interesting and original takes on classic campus mystery tropes. Despite the efficient scene-setting at the start, we are still presented with plenty more of Marlitt’s backstory.
Overall, then, The Resemblance is a satisfying read, populated by interesting and engaging characters, and hung on an interesting plot. I’m certainly interested in reading Nossett’s next novel, whatever that happens to be. Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to do so.