The Finalists by David Bell

I have been reading some intellectually challenging non-fiction of late and so needed fiction that wasn’t to demanding but yet entertaining.  Enter David Bell’s new novel, The Finalist, thanks to my friends over at NetGalley. Since I received a review copy, I felt like I should post a review (despite not having posted for some time).

On a beautiful spring day, six college students with nothing in common besides a desperate inability to pay for school gather to compete for the prestigious Hyde Fellowship.

Milo—The front-runner
Natalia—The brain
James—The rule follower
Sydney—The athlete
Duffy—The cowboy
Emily—The social justice warrior

The six of them must surrender their devices when they enter Hyde House, an aging Victorian structure that sits in a secluded part of campus.

Once inside, the doors lock behind them. The students are not allowed to leave until they spend eight hours with a college administrator who will do almost anything to keep the school afloat, and Nicholas Hyde, the privileged and notoriously irresponsible heir to the Hyde family fortune. If the students leave before time is up, they’ll be immediately disqualified.

But when one of the six finalists drops dead, the other students fear they’re being picked off one by one. With a violent protest raging outside, and no way to escape, the survivors viciously turn on each other.

While this felt a little over the top at times (more in terms of the character’s personality and interaction than plot), it kept me interested and wanting to find out what happened (which is the point of a book like this, no?).

Plus, to be fair, much of our world, particularly the world of higher education, seems over the top. And who is to say if you got a group of desperate, highly competitive college students locked in a house with a chance to win a lot of money, it wouldn’t get ugly.

But while the conflict and rhetorical combat creates the tension, it felt annoying to me. But again, what I read about college students these days annoys me too…

In summary:

  • Plot device/concept is the strong point
  • Not really liking any of the characters detracts
  • If you can suspend your disbelief once the first person dies, it is an interesting exploration of the politics and pressures of higher education world these days and the personalities who live in that world
  • Your reaction to the characters will determine your enjoyment of the story to a large degree

An interesting thought experiment and quick read. Beach/vacation read for sure.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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