... lavishly laced with references to disappearances and vanishings, from the image of Amelia Earhart on the wall of Georgie’s dorm room, to the oft-told tale of Agatha Christie squirreling herself from sight when her husband told her he had fallen for another woman ... positively reverberates with echoes of deceit, both purposeful and self-inflicted ... emulates a nigh-on perfect slow burn, generating a pace that makes room for unexpected tragedies as well as silly student antics, drawing out multiple threads of deceptions and lies and a nearly unending river of narrative twists. As Jess, Georgie, Nick, and Alec immerse themselves in their growing friendships, their star-crossed love affairs, and explosive emotional fallouts, Weinberg reveals that she has more than a few tricks of her own up her authorial sleeve ... is also generously peppered with lively and evocative details ... The primary characters are so acutely drawn that, even those with the most irritating traits become intriguing enough to spend time with, and Weinberg brings otherworldly landscape of East Anglia to beautifully bleak and eerie life ... a stark reminder that storytelling, so often considered a magical form of communication, can just as easily represent a far less positive departure from the truth.
This impressive debut from Kate Weinberg is a collegiate coming-of-age story entangled in a snarl of secretive goings on — some nearly a century old, others a few years past, and a few chillingly present. All of them intertwine to great effect in a cleverly constructed tale of passionate duplicity, mysterious absences, and sudden death ... The horizon is stormy and threatening indeed — though never quite collapses into creaky conventionality — as this mystery finds its stride, revealing a machinery of betrayals, vanishings, abrupt disillusionments, raw unmaskings, and, above all, romantic triangles. Or, more correctly, curiously intersecting triangles hinting strongly at furtive murder unpunished ... Kudos to Kate Weinberg...
Weinberg herself has an aversion to neat endings, or neatness in general – her plot takes surprising turns, her characters are multifaceted, and their dialogue pings with curious anecdotes and diversions that, unusually, add rather than detract from the whole ... Weinberg makes the mentor-student dynamic her own, mixing it with an engaging plot centred around love, betrayal and murder ... Sex plays a large part in The Truants, and Weinberg writes it well ... marks [Weinberg] out as a natural storyteller – in the vein of Christie herself – who spins a decent yarn with lots of smaller yarns along the way. At times we’re bombarded with information and the plot momentum can be ferocious ... Sometimes this lacks plausibility ... The final few chapters of the book are also too dragged out, with the plot mostly sewn up and the most engaging characters off-stage ... It is to Weinberg’s credit that the above doesn’t take away from the book. Her prose is fluid, at times startling, and her insights into society and human behaviour sharp. She knows the difference between drama and tension, and frequently underplays scenes and back story ... Dialogue is a particular strength in this book, hitting the sweet spot between exposition and naturalism. Chats are interesting, intelligent, fresh, and cover everything from literature to monogamy to politics. This is a debut that may sell itself as a murder mystery but there is much more going on between the covers.
With intrigue sparking throughout, Weinberg’s immensely compelling debut novel explores the years-long reverberations of a fractured friend group and echoes Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (1992), Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons (2004), Richard Russo’s Straight Man (1997), and Katie Lowe’s The Furies (2019). The mystery at the novel’s core befits Agatha Christie, another academic focus of Clay’s, and unravels at a nearly perfect pace. Spanning Jess’s university years and beyond, this slow burn of a novel explores the headiness of favoritism and the danger in meeting one’s heroes.
... an incredibly accomplished debut. London-based author Kate Weinberg blends choice components from various types of books — campus novel, bildungsroman, crime thriller, murder mystery — and creates an intriguing composite. Agatha Christie’s presence is felt in the whodunit aspect — but so too is her absence ... Weinberg is less adept in other areas. She scatters tantalizing hints of danger ahead but makes us wait over half the book until a murder is announced. And although her characters are awe-struck by Lorna, it is hard for the reader to feel any mesmerizing force ... In every other respect Weinberg excels, delivering a well-crafted page-turner full of love triangles and vicious circles, secrets and suspense. Escapist fiction of the highest order.
Weinberg’s 'truants' are skillfully drawn, compelling and complicated in equal measures ... Chapters are so tautly paced that when the dramatic events finally spill forth mid-way through the book, it’s a blessed relief. Weinberg is a crackling good writer. She captures the excruciating self-absorption and hyper self-awareness of early adulthood, when every encounter seems personal. And the novel’s urgent tempo gives the reader the sensation of heart palpitations. Truants is a novel worth skipping class for, and Weinberg’s writing marks the arrival of a sure talent.
There are more than a few nods to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History here — the band of student misfits with dysfunctional backgrounds, the professor with oddly intimate student-teacher bonds, plus an overall sense, skilfully seeded by Weinberg, that things are about to take a wrong turn ... It takes a while for the novel to pick up the pace. Though they serve a purpose in fleshing out Jess’s background, the flashbacks to her upbringing are less compelling but Weinberg’s prose is still crisp enough to keep you reading ... Threaded into the story are references to Agatha Christie’s novels, with their mysteries and murders and love triangles. The Truants borrows some of these murder mystery tropes, leading us to a dark conclusion that feels satisfying to reach, even if one big question is left unanswered.
The Christie angle adds a unique twist but feels a bit contrived ... Though the outlines of the story are familiar, Jess is eminently sympathetic and likable, and Weinberg skillfully depicts the headiness of the transition to college life. The ending feels needlessly protracted, however, as Jess spends several years during and after college (and following what should be the climax of the novel) attempting to solve the mystery of what happened her first year.
Weinberg manages to take these real-world components and combine them into a rich narrative that’s thoroughly her own...a novel that is simultaneously a striking character study and a refreshingly modern-day homage to the work of Agatha Christie ... accelerates as it goes, with the revelations barreling at a steady pace, especially toward the novel’s final third. It’s fortunate that they do, too, because otherwise the somewhat heavy-handed foreshadowing in the opening chapters would quickly grow frustrating. But Weinberg does eventually come through with the payoff she’s been promising, rewarding readers not only with a satisfying mystery but also with a portrait of a young woman forced to reevaluate her assumptions --- about friendship, literary brilliance and love.
Aside from some slight plausibility issues (if only teenagers’ lives were changed by works of literary scholarship!), Weinberg has written one of the best thriller debuts in recent years, with all the cleverness of Ruth Ware (and, yes, even Christie herself) and a dash of Donna Tartt’s edgy darkness ... Though Christie fans may be particularly delighted, this propulsive, pitch-perfect thriller has something for everyone.
... promising but uneven ... Weinberg writes incisively and evocatively about infatuation, heartbreak, and grief, but what begins as a tense, taut, character-driven slow burn succumbs to coincidence and melodrama. Weinberg aims high, but misses her mark