Unnerving obedience


Contributing Reporter


Imagine this: It is the first day of Logic and Reasoning 204. The professor begins by announcing that there has been a murder. Not a real murder, but a potential murder. If the victim and her potential killer are not found within six weeks, then she will die. 

What would you do?

That is what author Will Lavender expects readers of his new thriller, “Obedience,” to ask themselves, as they follow the exploits of three students who risk health, safety and sanity to solve the mystery and save the unknown, perhaps imaginary, victim.

 The aforementioned scenario was patterned after a real-life experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram, in the 1960s. Milgram was attempting to address questions about civilian complicity in the atrocities of Nazi Germany. To answer the question, he wanted to see how far one subject would go in inflicting pain upon another, when asked to do so by someone in authority.

The twist on the Milgram experiment, which is woven into the plot of “Obedience,” is that somebody wants to find out how far the students will go to save a life. But as the plot unfolds, the reader finds out that even good intentions can have unintended consequences.

Lavender, a former professor, is familiar with the dynamic between professor and student, and wondered about the question of authority. 

“In a college classroom, the power that a professor often has can really be taken to an extreme. A student will follow you and believe what you say because of their eagerness to learn,” Lavender said. 

 He admits that in real life, students probably wouldn’t go along as far as they did in the book, but still said, “I could have done quite a lot.”

 Lavender also admitted that what happened in the story could never happen in real life. 

 “After the Milgram experiment, they put in guidelines and protections so nothing like this could ever happen [again],” Lavender said. 

Lavender wrote “Obedience” in approximately two months on the days he wasn’t teaching. 

The book’s surprise ending was even a surprise to Lavender himself, who admitted that he didn’t know how it would turn out until he was over half- way through.   

After the commercial success of “Obedience,” Lavender quit his job teaching to devote himself to writing full-time. He is now at work on a second novel, and said that the story has been planned to the very end.