Review: “They Never Learn” by Layne Fargo

They Never Learn by Layne Fargo book cover, from goodreads
Original background cover photo credit: Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

I’ll know it’s working when he starts to scream.

They Never Learn, Chapter 1 opening

Author: Layne Fargo
Publication Date: October 13th 2020
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Genre: Thriller
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor. But she’s even better at getting away with murder.

Every year, she searches for the worst man at Gorman University and plots his well-deserved demise. Thanks to her meticulous planning, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself—but as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the growing body count on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Scarlett insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge, Dr. Mina Pierce. Everything’s going according to her master plan… until she loses control with her latest victim, putting her secret life at risk of exposure.

Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Finally free of her emotionally abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies and fade into the background. Her new roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay… and turning her fantasies about revenge into a reality.

From Goodreads

Review

Book Content Warnings: rape, abuse, suicide, infidelity, depression

If you love a good revenge-driven serial killer story you’ve come to the right place ✨ Layne Fargo presents readers with a dark and deadly thriller, punctuated by one of the most ghastly main character backstories I’ve read so far this year.

Scarlett, a seemingly innocuous English professor, deals out swift and deadly justice in her spare time to anyone that’s been getting away with atrocious acts unpunished. She’s cold and calculating, guarding their small-town college campus from wrongdoers and protecting those who aren’t able to help themselves. In a university that turns a blind eye to its prevalent rape culture, hypermasculinity, and victim blaming patterns, Scarlett is the only one who will stand up. Her decision to kill is morally questionable at best, but her underlying intentions are good and her actions may even be philosophically justifiable under axiology/value theory.

For her own part, Scarlett’s actions are heavily influenced by her own raw and devastatingly tragic backstory. They Never Learn boils down to a study in how people, when repeatedly wronged in deep and traumatizing ways, pushed to the brink, then unsupported and disbelieved, must either somehow breach the numbness and act to help themselves or let the situational helplessness and despair consume them entirely. Scarlett reaches through her darkness for the former, but her twisted sense of righteousness birthed from the experience leads to the series of murders she commits in the story. As a sole arbiter in who deserves the ultimate punishment, however, it’s easy for your own interests to influence the outcome.

The story reads heartbreaking, depressing, and real. Nearly every relationship in this book turns wrong. We see characters abused, detached, and scarred. But if you have the fortitude to continue through the worst of what college culture has to offer this book unfolds into a well-crafted, thrilling journey.

Some of my favorite character interactions were between Scarlett and her taboo younger lover, Jasper. For a while they have a hot-and-cold sort of semi-kinky arrangement which was fun to read. There’s also a few LGBTQ+ relationships featured (gay, lesbian) which was cool to see. In fact, one of the few glimmers of light in this dark story was the sweet relationship between one of Scarlett’s English professor peers and his husband.

Mid-way through the book there’s an excellent twist that came in clear out of the blue. This was one of my biggest blindsides in a while, and for that alone I would have boosted the rating. Combined with the thoughtful, devastating plotline this book hits a high note as one of my favorites of the year so far. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys thrillers with an academic background and/or ‘heroic’ serial killers on a bend for justice.

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