One of the hazards of working in a library is that I often put a book on hold and promptly forget about it. There are a lot of books in the world, they all sound delightful, and I have the memory of a goldfish, so it is not unusual that I come into the library and find something waiting for me that I would swear I’ve never heard of in my life.
(As occupational hazards go, this is a pretty benign one.)
Such was the case with Adam Oyebanji’s A Quiet Teacher. Do I remember putting it on hold? No. Had I heard anything about it? No. Did I almost return it unread? Yes — but I am so very, very glad that I didn’t, because I would have missed out on a story that is taut, twisty, and unexpectedly charming – a true hidden gem of a story.
Greg Abimbola teaches Russian at an exclusive private school in Pittsburgh – the kind where the parents’ money speaks louder than any other language, and Ivy League admissions are expected as a matter of course. Greg is content to teach conjugations and keep his head down, until an entitled parent demands he change her daughter’s grade. He refuses; she threatens his career. When she’s found dead the next day in the school basement, Greg is a prime suspect.
The good news is, the police quickly move on to another staff member. The bad news is that the staffer in question, Maria, is Greg’s only friend. He’s drawn into investigating the murder against his better judgment, because it turns out that Greg has a lot of secrets – and a mysterious past. The same backstory that makes him uniquely qualified to help his friend also risks drawing the attention of some very, very bad people.
A Quiet Teacher quickly morphs into a blend of detective story and espionage. With every clue Greg uncovers, he reveals more of his past – to the reader, if not his colleagues. He’s observant, logical, and surprisingly good with people, and watching him crack the case is just plain fun. At the same time, he’s wrestling his personal demons and trying to outwit his pursuer, a dogged, deeply unpleasant man bent on revenge.
Author Adam Oyebanji deftly weaves together the two threads of Greg’s story without losing the cleverness and tension that define each, while also incorporating issues of race and class. Like the author, Greg is Black and British. In the nearly all-white environment of his prestigious school, his posh accent only partially insulates him from the microaggressions and overt racism that his other marginalized coworkers endure. This nuanced exploration adds even more depth to the book. Oyebanji’s background as a financial counterterrorism expert gives the plot an additional ring of truth – you can tell you’re in the hands of someone who knows what he’s talking about. The result is a tense, zippy little book: half mystery, half spy thriller, and wholly satisfying, especially as the ending suggests there might be more adventures for Greg in the future.