Murder in the World Below by Lara Nance

Murder in the World Below by Lara Nance
A Haven Mystery
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (156 Pages)
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Cyclamen

A Haven Mystery –
In 1922 the federal government built the largest facility for handicapped children in the country, hidden in the Shenandoah mountains of Virginia. It was closed forever in 1960 amid horrifying stories of deplorable conditions, overcrowding, illegal testing and sexual abuse of the young inmates.

Sixty-one years later, the academy is now a community college, all trace of its evil past swept away. Or is it? For under the campus of renovated buildings, escapees from the academy and their descendants still live in an elaborate series of tunnels and caves, hiding their differences and fear of the upper world.

Haven, as the residents call their underground home, is a happy, thriving community until they learn their source of power is about to be cut off. A resourceful young woman named Awen sets out to find an alternative source of energy. But someone in Haven is murdering people and sabotaging her efforts.

Aided by a professor from the college, Awen is in a race to expose the killer and hunt for a source of energy that will save Haven. Unfortunately, the murderer now has their sights on Awen as the next victim, and time is running out for the world below.

An entire community lives in the tunnels below what used to be the Parker-Dunham Academy for Retarded Children, a facility which had been closed in 1960. The facility had been closed because of the deplorable conditions under which the patients lived, and now the site houses Virginia’s Shenandoah Community College. Many of those living in this community, named Haven, were subjected to horrendous radiation experiments in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Children born to these “Testers” were frequently deformed or handicapped. But in Haven they have a good and satisfying life, that is until they learn that they will have to find a new source of power as the college converts its last coal furnace to electricity. Add to that the discovery that there is a killer in their midst and the tension builds.

Lara Nance has written a gripping novel which is much more than a mystery or suspense thriller. She has a real understanding for her characters who live their entire lives below ground. She demonstrates a true empathy with Awen, Gran, Billy, and others who are terrified of the Uppers, as they call those who live Topside. Then there are the Uppers, themselves, both good and bad. Awen likes to sit in classes at the college. She stays in the back and leaves the minute class is over, but she has a real hunger for learning. This leads to a friendship with Mimi, the daughter of a rich lawyer, and Jason, the English professor. Both of these people are good and true. Other Uppers, however, are cruel and vindictive, showing the utter complexity of the human experience.

Nance’s descriptions of Haven are incredible. I really felt as if I were underground where communication takes place using coded tapping on the pipes and the women long for things like a dryer since clothes take so long to dry in the damp. Many residents have trained pet rats to keep them company and provide comfort. And while there are a few who try to separate the residents into Testers and Pure (those not tainted by the radiation experiments), most of them accept and treasure each other for the many gifts they each bring to the community.

This novel is definitely a good mystery, and I didn’t guess the murderer until almost the very end. The clues are there, but lots of people seem to be good suspects as well. There are twists and turns in the plot all the way through, just as convoluted as the tunnels the Haven community lives in. But the novel would be an excellent read even without the mystery because of the way Nance deals with the sociology and psychology of Haven and its reaction to and interaction with Topside. I really enjoyed this novel and I would definitely recommend it to mystery readers as well as readers who want a different perspective on society.


  1. Thank you so much for this fantastic review. You truly “got” what I was trying to portray in the differences between the Uppers and the inhabitants of Haven. The difference is really just about good and evil, as most of life is…. Thank you! Lara XOXOXO

Speak Your Mind