Book Talk: A Crooked College by E. Timothy Lightfield Ph.D.
You shall love your crooked neighbor with all your crooked heart —or at least, that’s what poet W.H. Auden says in his 1937 poem “As I Walked Out One Evening.” It’s a curious stanza, one that encompasses humanity’s will to understand each other’s darkness.
Enter E. Timothy Lightfield, Ph.D.’s ‘A Crooked College: 1974 . . . 1975 . . . 1976 . . . 1977’, a compelling novel (with a mouthful of a title) that aims to help us deal and be okay with life’s own crookedness. With college life in novels often depicting crazy parties and coming-of-age sagas, Lightfield takes us through the very same collegiate system itself through the untimely death of one of its highest leaders.
The novel begins at the heart of the crime with the mysterious death of College President J. Paul Keheller shaking the small community of Central Jersey Community College. With its 1970s backdrop depicting a realistically flawed education system and complete lack of DNA investigations, we then turn the narrative on its head as we join Keheller during his earlier years as an educator.
Though Lightfield showcases fictional colleges and characters through his debut novel, it displays the extensive research and firsthand narrative that Lightfield undoubtedly lived through with various educational stints in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, and more.
The novel’s plot deepens with the introduction of city sheriff and county coroner Arthur Clough, whose passion for his work and the case leads him to dive into the depths of the systematic corruption that comes with education and Keheller’s life as a whole. Readers would be left rearing with each new ascending chapter, with an ending that will leave many wanting more.
Despite being a classic murder mystery-whodunnit, Lightfield also writes with an undeniable snark and wit that makes the ride as fun as it is intriguing, as we meet relatable characters and realistic situations that were all-too timely amidst the 70s.
At its core, A Crooked College peels back the shady parts that come with human nature - and through the compelling prose and vast case studies from Lighfield, it might just touch our crooked hearts.
Reviews and What Readers Say
" Dr. Tim LIghtfield's extensive knowledge of the history and structure of educational institutions in America provides a solid base for the author's first novel.
Lightfield paints a sometimes amusing and occasionally cringeworthy portrait of a dysfunctional community college on the U.S. east coast. The college's relatively new president J. Paul Kelller is found dead in his office one morning.
Along the way toward discovering the cause of death Lightfield details a tangeled web of possible causes. Was it an accident? Suicide? Murder? All possibilities are plausible.
The president, we learn, has been masking terminal cancer with high doses of physician-prescribed morphine...and he's been hiding his condition from everyone, including his family. Meanwhile, president Kelleher's wife has been cultivating a behind-the-scenes friendship with the college basketball coach, who loathes the president. Senior staff at the college resent the president's constant re-organizations, his management style, and his temperament. One vice president seethes with anger over being passed over for the presidency. College trustees appear to be accepting bribes to inlude a local architect on a construction contract bid. Staff in one department cover up the drinking problem of their supervisor whose behavior ultimately results in his fatal car crash. There are torrid affairs and sexual innuendos, accusations and misunderstandings galor.
Then we meet Arthur Clough, the local sheriff whose rumpled appearance and seemingly innoccuous inquiries belie incisive investigatory skill. Clough is also the county coroner and during the course of his inquest into the cause of death he systematically peels away one possible cause of Kelleher's demise after another. But not before exposing a litany of ethical and criminal infractions infecting the college.
We're kept guessing until the very end, which despite the novel's 542 pages, comes too soon. We hope for more stories from Lightfield."
— Michael Allan, Amazon Reader's Review
" As many successful authors do, Dr Lightfield based his story on his own career in higher education where he was a professor, researcher, chief academic officer, campus provost and president. The community college of his story does not exist, nor do the characters, but they are an amalgamation of his experience. He does an excellent job portraying them. The situations, moral dilemmas and actions taken are reflective, sadly, of not only the field of education, but also many if not most career fields.
After spending 35 years in public education I found Dr. Lightfield's many characters to be realistic and believable. Their actions, relationships and life stories reflect people from real life. I found myself recognizing people I knew throughout my career. His main character, J. Paul Kelleher, is a complicated and intriguing man. He was my favorite character because over the course of the novel my impressions of him changed. We're first introduced to him as a after he was found dead in his office after a contentious board meeting. The story then flashes back to when he first began at Central Jersey Community College and continues until his death. As expected it was a very "crooked path". The ending is well done."
— Barbara Heinlein, Amazon Reader's Review
" I really enjoyed reading this book! All the characters are very complex. I fell in love with the main characters! The chapters are very short so it made it easy to read in a relatively short time. I am really looking forward to Adrienne’s next book!"
— Amazon Reader's Review
" Our bookclub read this book and then met to discuss. Dr. Lightfield (Tim to all of us) lives in the same neighborhood as the bookclub members. It was an insightful and lively discussion as always. Tim did not arrive until the end of the discussion period (by design of the bookclub members) when everyone's attention was being turned to the dessert part of the evening (a bunch of women looking toward a beautiful chocolate meringue pie on the counter - hard to divert their attention to anything else at that point). Suffice it to say, everyone was super impressed with the colossal undertaking of this book. We were impressed how someone can take on such a monumental task and see it through to publication. It was obvious hours and hours and hours went into researching and writing this novel. If you lived and worked during the era of the book, you may relate to many of the situations. Women certainly did not fair nearly as well as men during this time period and I think every woman in the club experienced at least one, if not more, of the circumstances depicted. If you thrive on detail, and higher education issues in the 70's, this is a must read for you. The writer's style includes humor with a touch of sarcasm. It is a long book and has an extraordinarily large number of characters so keep a reference list of actors as they are introduced in the book and enjoy going back in time. You won't know "who done it" until the very end!!"
—R. DeSantis, Amazon Reader's Review
Review by Bianca Kimber
Disclosure: This article is a personal endorsement of the professional reviewer. The BookWalker is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
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