Color Me a Little Slow on the Uptake: The Swallows

Originally published January 8, 2020

Don’t get me wrong — Lisa Lutz’s “The Swallows” is an engrossing, entertaining read. Disturbing but thoroughly enjoyable. But that wasn’t my favorite part.

My favorite part of the experience was sitting at lunch one afternoon talking about the book with friends and as I was midway through, explaining the plot, “…and blah blah blah there’s a bird code and so-and-so says ‘There’s a fifth bird’ and I’m thinking ‘What bird?’ and then … Oh, wait. The Swallows! Oh … wait …. Ewwwww!”

Hahaha, Ms. Lutz. Good one.

Full disclosure, I’ve never read any of The Spellman Files, where I suspect a lot of Lutz fans come from. Instead, I read “The Passenger” and freaking loved it. Recommended it to everyone. So when I saw the Lutz had a new book out, I grabbed it off the shelf and into my bedside book queue it went. Determined to start 2020 by working through the TBR pile before I head to the bookstore (Fat chance, there’s too much good stuff coming out this month), it was the first thing I reached for this year, and I was thrilled to kick the new year off with this fantastic prep school mystery.

Alex Witt, a somewhat reluctant English teacher, and Gemma Russo, a somewhat reluctant member of society in general, are the main protagonists of Lutz’s tale about life at Stonebridge Academy, where the #MeToo Movement is pretty much nonexistent. Until now.

To be fair, there’s a lot of stereotyping going on with this cast of characters — a prep school posse of douchebag guys having their way with occasionally willing girls, but stereotypes exist for a reason, right? And it makes for compelling reading — a mysterious teacher with a mysterious past shows up on campus and is living in a rundown cabin. A cliquey bunch of staff that is either unaware of complicit in the goings on of “The Ten” — the most popular group of students.

There are a number of subplots within the narrative, and with it the occasional protagonist steps in in place of Witt or Russo. There’s the headmaster, the PE teacher, another English teacher and students-slash-double agents helping one another break the code and solve the mystery of “The Darkroom,” a website that serves as data warehouse for the douchebaggery of the male half of The Ten. These side stories help to pace the mystery and provide additional color to the main narrative about women reclaiming their power. Whackadoo and hilarious, in some respects, but still, reclaiming their power.

“The Swallows” is an engaging mystery and quick read, easily finished in a weekend if you’ve got the time to spend curled up on the couch, Hygge-style. If you like darkly comic thrillers, don’t pass it up.

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