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William Michael Ried
Ansel Tone, a celebrity author on revisionist history and propaganda professor at Columbia, drives fast cars and runs with glamorous women. He’s up for tenure and writing a new book when he attends a Trinity College reunion. His ex-classmate Charlie announces he will base his next novel on meeting his wife during their year in the Dublin, on a campus cloaked in four-hundred-years of student pranks and mayhem. Ansel may accept that Charlie married the beautiful Tess, Ansel’s girlfriend that year, but how Charlie remembers the story threatens to upend Ansel’s life. He can’t let that happen and so sets out to revise history. In New York City and the Hudson River Valley, Charlie digs into the past, Ansel struggles to rewrite his own past, and Tess wonders if she wound up with the right guy. Their unwitting ex-classmates will share the repercussions.
Ried spins a compelling page-turner about the perils of trying to rewrite one's own personal narrative. Starting with a dramatic night late in the tenure of “the McYanks,” a group of six tight-knit friends studying at Dublin's Trinity College, Ried explores how secrets never stay buried and the past is never truly past. Focusing on sleazy Ansel Tone, a rock star among historians, and frustrated novelist Charlie Piedmont, Ried presents his characters as complicated, flawed, and human. Ansel is a womanizer who sleeps with students and plagiarizes their work; Charlie marries Ansel's girlfriend from Trinity and decides that his next novel should be about him winning the girl. That kicks off an escalating series of events that includes infidelity, manipulation, lies about the past, and eventually murder.

Readers interested in metafiction, roman à clefs, and morally complex character studies will thrill to Ried's deft writing and clever plot complications. Backstory shrewdly compares the theme of rewriting the past to bolster one's own narrative to the concept of “fake news,” as the narratives that Ansel and Charlie choose for themselves aren't just self-delusional but actually harmful. Lies pile on top of lies and, in a tense and exciting sequence, at first seem to trap narcissistic cad Ansel, but soon Charlie and the tireless detectives searching for the truth get caught up in distractions.

Ried's characters are all given an opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. Ansel, who writes best-sellers on the concept of revisionist history, believes he can spin his way out of anything but eventually faces up to hard truths. His friend Dutch is the book’s moral center, courting an employee of Ansel's while providing support to the other McYanks. Tess and Molly feel less developed than most of the men, though both have their moments. This exciting thriller finds betrayals, alliances, lies, and secrets all shaken until the truth comes out at last.

Takeaway: Lies, betrayals, and morally complex mystery as friends from Trinity College face the past.

Great for fans of: Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: B-