Extremely dirty power-doings in a small-town school system--in a strong, psychologically direct first novel. Donald Kone is a bright, capable, but colorless man in his early 50s; his renewal as school superintendent is up before the board. Meanwhile, Kone's rival for the job, high-school principal Leo Jacobi, comes to him with a seamy sexual proposal--involving Jacobi's young, rather witless mistress Chryssa Bok, a teacher who faces dismissal for incompetence: if Chryssa gets to keep her job, Jacobi implies, she'll be grateful enough to seek a way to repay. Kone, enticed by a photo of Chryssa in her underwear, is dragged by the image beyond his better sense: the sexual compromise is one he can't resist. The young woman is rehired on Kone's recommendation; she gives herself to him as arranged by Jacobi; and things apparently end there. But when Kone is shortly thereafter renewed as superintendent, the bitter Jacobi plays one final treacherous card: Chryssa announces to Kone that she's pregnant, then shares her secret with the school board. So Kone, without the imagination needed to save himself, finds his fate to be classical, predestined--disgrace and death. Birmelin, though occasionally seeming more to borrow her vocabulary than firmly own it, does get to the implacable rub of this powerful story quickly, handily, with a practiced confidence. And if the novel gets a bit lost somewhere around the middle, it then recalls itself and its Greek configuration. Compelling for its ancient-seeming dramas enacted on an unlikely, small stage of indebtedness, weakness, and advantage: a promising debut.