I'm always a bit reluctant to say yes to authors who offer to send me a free book in exchange for a review. For the most part, that's because I insist on being honest, and while I have no problem pointing out a few blips, I simply don't have the heart to "trash" anyone else's work. Blame it on upbringing; if you can't say anything good, my late mother always said, don't say anything at all.
The same can be said about reading a book by someone you know - or more accurately, know of. When the author of this book was president of Youngstown State University, I was working as a journalist at a newspaper just blocks away, and my husband Jack was a part-time faculty member at YSU (back then, they were called "limited-service"). When I learned that the author - now retired and living in Florida - had penned a novel that centers on university life, I hesitated; what if it were a clinker? But since the description told me the book "exposes the underbelly of academic life on a Midwestern college campus," I just couldn't resist; after spending a good portion of my life as a university administrator myself, I've got a pretty good handle on the politics and peccadilloes that go with the territory. Besides, it wasn't free; I paid $5.99 for the Kindle version at Amazon.
As it turns out, I'm happy to report it's quite good, especially for a debut novel; clearly, Cochran has taken the advice to "write about what you know" to heart. I might even argue there's a bit of "who you know" in there as well; a couple of characters in the book are amazingly reminiscent of folks who were around back when Cochran was at YSU. At 322 pages, it didn't take long to finish, but the plot moved along nicely and held my attention. Had it been possible, I'd have finished it in a single sitting.
That said, I'll get my quibbles out of the way up front. I know that the use of "alright" in place of "all right" is gaining acceptance in some circles, but in my vocabulary, it's still akin to fingernails on a blackboard. And, I'll give whoever was the copy editor half a dozen lashes with a red pencil for allowing about that number of improper uses of apostrophe's (sic, on purpose to make my point).
The story centers on Steve Schilling, who has been groomed (in ways that can happen only in a university setting) to become the next president of Eastern Arkansas University. Playing all the political angles that involve administration and faculty, the retiring current president, Schilling's mentor, accomplishes that goal - and thereafter remains in the wings to make sure Schilling gets the job done effectively. In fact, Schilling does that and more; quickly, he masters the art of schmoozing, wheeling, dealing and cajoling for money (a.k.a. fund-raising).
Aye, but there's a rub. The good president, it seems, has a serious character flaw - a penchant for women besides his own beautiful, talented wife. Once the total reaches five -- all unknown to everyone else including Schilling's wife -- trying to keep them all happy becomes an impossible juggling act. Problem is, he's convinced he's head-over-heels in love with each and every one and, despite warnings from colleagues, he refuses to let any one of them go unattended for any meaningful length of time. Even a visit to a psychologist (who inexplicably diagnoses Schilling with a nasty case of sex addition within minutes of meeting him) does nothing to convince him he's headed for a big-time train wreck.
Finally, his wife -- who thus far has forgiven him for suspected marital transgressions -- accepts the truth, and as his professional behavior increasingly becomes erratic, his colleagues become suspicious as well. Worse, the chief of a local newspaper has been tipped off, assigning a reporter to ferret out the facts. But everyone concerned, except perhaps Schilling, also are acutely aware of the damage that public exposure (so to speak) of his illicit affairs will do to the university which, thanks in large part to Schilling's efforts, has achieved greater status and now is a recognized leader in both academics and athletics.
What happens won't be revealed here, except to say the ending is very much in keeping with the ways of academia as I knew it and also provides a nice segue to Cochran's next in what is expected to be a trilogy, Costly Affair (the first chapter of which is included in this book).
Signature Affair: Love, Lies and Liaisons by Les Cochran (Bookstand Publishing October 2013); 322 pp.