The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan
Warren Botts is a socially awkward and unusual man pursuing his PhD in Biology who decided he needed to take a break from being in the lab. Through connections he gets a temporary job as a substitute science teacher at a middle school. It’s there he meets student Amanda Fuller, and the problems begin. Amanda keeps showing up at Botts’ home, asking for help with her science homework, or to talk about her marks, family…etc. Warren tells her he’ll help her at school but she should stay away from his house and making these inappropriate appearances. One morning, Warren notices Amanda standing by a tree in his back yard – choosing to ignore her, he goes out for a run.
Warren returns to his home to discover that Amanda has hung herself from that very tree she was standing under when he left. He knows that after he calls the police that Amanda’s “suicide” won’t sit well with law enforcement and the public, making him the prime suspect of her murder, thus turning the whole town against him.
But did Amanda really take her own life? The Substitute is told from two perspectives: that of Warren Botts, and that of a second character who remains a mystery but definitely has an impact on the story – perhaps one of Warren’s students who was behind Amanda’s death? From what we know of this second narrator is that they’re a thriving psychopath with extreme intelligence but is emotionally damaged and detached from any meaningful relationships & personal connections (with the exception to their younger sister).
As the narration progresses in the alternating chapters, it appears that the two stories are going to intersect and combine, but the truth is not revealed until the very end of the novel. This is not the typical nail-biting tense, fast-paced novel of suspense but rather a slowly emerging story of two people who have but rather a slowly emerging story of two solitary people who have more in common than either of them realize, while being so different at the same time. The tension itself comes from the treatment of Warren over Amanda’s death and the suspicions of who the mysterious narrator is and what he or she might do next.
These in-depth studies of these two characters made The Substitute hard to put down. Lundrigan’s ability to write from the point of view from a psychopath was fascinating, along with painting a portrait of how these two lived parallel lives, making it appear as if they could be the same person. Nicole Lundrigan is a new author to keep an eye for if you love a good mystery novel, or psychological thriller!
Kirsten Lowe studies at Athabasca University.