This is Stuart Nachbar’s second foray into the literary world, I greatly enjoyed his first book The Sex Ed Chronicles, and when I got wind of the imminent release of Defending College Heights I immediately put it on my must read list.

At first glance there seems little to connect the two books, Sex Ed was a very political themed novel, while Defending College Heights is a murder mystery come thriller. Yet in retrospect there are many parallels, Education plays as the backdrop, and politics is still a major underlying theme. Stuart seems to have found his niche with these themes. From a technical standpoint it is hard to find fault in Defending College Heights, Stuart is becoming a better and better writer.

The action is centered in a small university town College Heights, home to a rather down at heel school, The Hudson Technical University. A small and for the most part undistinguished seat of higher learning. Kevin Callahan is a decorated Iraq war soldier who has returned home and taken up the task of becoming an Army Recruiter. The school is shocked when his murdered body is found on their premises.

Kevin’s uncle Jack Donnelly, takes it upon himself to try and unravel what happened in College Heights. It does not take Jack long to realize that there is more than meets the eye in College Heights, passions run high over the Iraq war, and the perceived recruiting methods used by the army. But could an anti war sentiment be responsible for Kevin’s death?

Although Jack had planned only a very quick visit, the prime purpose to meed with the university president, Jack finds himself drawn into not just the past events, but also future events. He is leery of the motives of most of the players, almost everyone seems to have an agenda. Hudson Tech president Martina Tiernan seems more interested in self preservation than solving the crime, and as is often the case in small university towns there is the town versus gown clash. There is only one person that he puts trust into and that is Waldon Pond, a ‘consultant’ with a blurry mission at the university.

Jack is not just surprised, he is shocked when Martina Tiernan discovers that he is by trade a city planner and offers him a temporary assignment to act as school planner. To Jack this smells of Tiernan attempting to buy his silence. However it does provide him the ability to roam freely around the campus. Is his nephews death connected to the school, or was it just a freak occurrence, and the school is an innocent bystander?

Stuart Nachbar has a gift for writing fiction that covers real life issues. Inevitably you put down a Nachbar book and start chewing over the messages he has imparted. Clearly the message behind this one is armed forces recruiting practices in our schools and universities. Do they oversell the product, are they being honest about what the would be recruit is likely to face? The other thing about this author is you always walk away learning something. I had always assumed that armed forces recruiting was at the discretion of the school, that is not the case. The Solomon Act and to a lesser extent The No Child Left Behind Act essentially force schools into permitting the practice.

As we enter the vacation season this is one book that you should read while relaxing on the beach. Not only is it a great story with well developed characters, the underlying social message is a deep one,. worthy of some thought.

You can order your copy of Defending College Heights from Amazon. There is also a web site

Simon Barrett

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