The Big Thrill Discusses THE PROFESSOR with Lauren Nossett
On a spring afternoon in Athens, Georgia, Ethan Haddock is discovered in his apartment, dead, apparently by his own hand. His fatality immediately garners media attention: not because his death reflects the troubling increase of depression and mental health issues among college students, but because the media has caught the whiff of a scandal. His professor, Dr. Verena Sobek, has been taken in for questioning, and there are rumors his death is the result of a bad romance. A Title IX investigation is opened, the professor is suspended, and social media crusaders and trolls alike are out for blood.
Marlitt Kaplan never investigated love affairs. A former detective turned research assistant, she misses the excitement of her old job, but most of all the friendship of her partner, Teddy. When her mother, a professor at the university and colleague of the accused professor, asks for her help, she finds herself in the impossible position of proving something didn’t happen. Without the credentials to interview suspects or access phone records, she will have to get closer to a victim’s life than ever before. And she quickly finds herself in his apartment, having dinner with his roommates, even sleeping in his bed. But is she too close to see the truth?
In her relentless pursuit to uncover the mystery behind Ethan’s death, Marlitt will be forced to confront the power structures ingrained in the classroom against the backdrop of a historic campus and an institution that sometimes fails its most vulnerable members.
Award-winning author Lauren Nossett recently spent time with The Big Thrill to discuss her latest contemporary thriller, THE PROFESSOR.
Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?
Have you ever sat next to someone on a plane who kept asking questions, and by the time you arrived at your destination, you realized you’d given them enough information to find you in real life? And only then worried about their motives? I suspect as thriller writers our minds often go in such nefarious directions. And although that plane incident has been relegated to a minor scene toward the end of THE PROFESSOR, that experience and the unsettled feeling I had after it inspired my first pages.
A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?
THE PROFESSOR is told from three perspectives: Detective Marlitt Kaplan’s, whose voice I already loved writing from my first book, The Resemblance; the professor’s; and her student’s. I wrote the first draft of the novel while I was still a professor and felt passionate about its themes—the rise of student alienation and depression on college campuses, teacher burnout, and the academic institutions that so often fail their most vulnerable members. I could talk about these themes all day, and I suppose this passion kept me going throughout the entire process.
When you first created your protagonist for this book, did you see an empty space in crime lit that you wanted to fill? What can you share about the inspiration for that character?
Marlitt Kaplan is a former detective and the daughter of a professor. On one hand, she’s intimately aware of the pressures of an academic career from growing up with her professor-mother, and yet, on the other, she has an outsider perspective of campus life that allows her to be critical of the status quo. What I loved about writing this book is that I was able to juxtapose her outsider perspective with Verena Sobek, a tenure-track professor at the same university where Marlitt’s mother teaches. Verena, like so many junior faculty, is overworked, juggling teaching and research expectations, while struggling with imposter syndrome as a foreign professor at an American university. Their combined perspective on the suspicious circumstances surrounding a student’s death allows for an investigation of the darkest corners of academic life: ambition, lies, and obsession.
In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?
I hope readers will remember to be kind to themselves and one another and to show a healthy dose of respect for their teachers—otherwise they might be forced to teach them a lesson!
Lauren Nossett is a professor turned novelist with a Ph.D. in German literature. Her fiction debut, The Resemblance, won the ITW Thriller Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, THE PROFESSOR, will be released in November 2023. She currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
To learn more about the author, please visit her website.
THE PROFESSOR with Lauren Nossett