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Grant Jenkins
Ivory Tower

Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Market)

Ivory Tower is a campus crime thriller about Margolis Santos, a charismatic film professor in her prime, who risks her career and life to uncover sexual corruption inside her university’s football program where rich boosters pay sorority girls to have sex with star recruits. Embroiled in a sex scandal of her own, Margolis’s life goes into a tail-spin. She unthinkingly sleeps with a student from another school, and when the parents find out, they threaten to sue her University. To protect its reputation, the conniving university president, Art ‘Lightning’ Lane, takes revenge on Margolis and has her fired. At rock bottom, Margolis decides to make a documentary to expose the exploitation and violence at “The U.” The trouble is, her husband, Frank Sinoro, is the head football coach, while her daughter, Brie, loves the sorority. So Margolis has to make a choice: she has to find a way to protect her family, while also saving the women on campus and, eventually, her own soul.

Jenkins’s enjoyable debut follows a film professor as she uncovers a sex scandal within a Southern university’s football program. Margolis Santos (“It’s pronounced Margo-lee,” she tells Ford, the naive community college student she’s sleeping with) teaches television and film at Athens University, where her estranged husband, Frank Sinoro, is the head football coach. When Stephanie, a Delta Delta Theta sorority member, is gang-raped by football players, Theta sister Emma begs Margolis to collaborate with her on a film about how the Thetas were paid to have sex with football recruits. At first Margolis refuses to rock the boat, but after she is fired over her relationship with Ford and her marriage ends, she has little to lose. As she and Emma work on the film, they discover that the corruption at Athens is linked to the highest levels of the university administration, and those seeking to stop Margolis’s investigation won’t hesitate to threaten her.

The author expertly develops Margolis’s character and shows her evolution from a self-absorbed snob into a sympathetic crusader for traumatized young women. Readers will appreciate Jenkins’s insightful view of the feelings experienced by the women in the sorority house as they come to terms with their reasons for accepting payment for sex (including unreasonably high tuition and sorority fees) and realize they have been victimized. The chilling rape scene is not overly explicit, but it clearly reveals the brutality of the assault and its devastating effects.

Jenkins frames scenes with film terms such as “fade in” and “we open on,” a gimmick that detracts from the flow of the story. Nuanced characterizations do much more to keep the reader hooked, including Emma’s conflicting feelings about her sexuality, Margolis’s determination to keep her teen daughter safe, and assistant coach Eggy chasing her ambition even when it comes at the expense of her morals. This is an engrossing, evenly paced drama about how a woman lost in her own world discovers a real sense of purpose in helping other women.

Takeaway: Suspense fans with an interest in current events will thrill to this riveting, insightful deep dive into corruption at an elite university.

Great for fans of Jodi Picoult, Chris Bohjalian.

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

Professor Margolis Santos, the protagonist of this intriguing, smoothly written first novel from scholar Jenkins (Poetic Obligation: Ethics in Experimental American Poetry After 1945), teaches cinema studies at Athens University. Located in the Deep South, the university is proud of its football team and demands that it win at all costs. That Margolis’s soon-to-be-ex-husband, Frank, coaches the team has put increasing pressure on their deteriorating relationship. Meanwhile, Margolis faces possible dismissal because of an affair with a student from a local junior college. As she digs in to fight to save her job, she stumbles on a much larger and more insidious network of corruption and vice. Margolis becomes the target of a powerful group of ruthless men who will stop at nothing to maintain their position. The linear narration slips easily into and out of a cinematic script version of the action and enlightening excerpts from Margolis’s lectures on film structure. These tricks enhance the characterization and plot as well as lend a pleasing rhythm to the book. Jenkins has made an impressive start as a novelist. (Self-published)
Book Launch Party

Please join us for an evening of fiction and discussion about Grant Matthew Jenkins' new novel, Ivory Tower, that takes a hard look at the corrupt culture of sexual exploitation in big-time college sports through the lens of Margolis Santos, a film professor at fictional Athens University, where billionaire boosters pay sorority girls to sleep with start football recruits. It's ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter is sure to make for a lively question and answer session.