Another bitterly amusing mystery from the author of A Field of Darkness (2006).
The Santangelo Academy is a school of last resort, an expensive dumping ground for addicted, addled and dangerous teenagers. Madeline Dare is almost as desperate as her students when she starts teaching there: The job that lured her husband from Syracuse to the Berkshires disappears before he even begins work, and a position teaching history is the only employment Madeline can find. She’s got other, more existential issues, too—ones that some readers will recall from Madeline’s first appearance in Read’s debut—and the draconian therapeutic regimen at Santangelo is only exacerbating her emotional unease. Having been raised amidst the baroque self-help culture of California in the ’70s, Madeline is both familiar with and deeply skeptical of the school founder’s unorthodox methods. Her cynicism turns to something deeper and more terrible, though, when she suspects that the supposed suicide of two students was actually murder. Her fear and outrage intensify when she becomes a suspect. Like the many caterers, quilters and cat-lovers who inhabit mystery fiction, Madeline has a knack for amateur sleuthing, but there’s nothing cozy about this novel (the violence is occasionally spectacular, and there is liberal use of the F-word). And, like the oft-imperiled heroines of romantic suspense, Madeline has a gift for getting into trouble, but Read does not use danger as an impetus for crazy sex (Madeline is securely, sedately married, and when she and her husband go to bed together, it’s for sleeping). Rather, Read borrows elements from different genres to craft a strange, compelling narrative, one that frequently approaches—but never quite descends to—the excesses of melodrama. Madeline’s deadpan voice, acid wit and psychological depth are the perfect counterpoint to the novel’s positively Gothic plot. In her shadowed complexity and stubborn—but fragile—integrity, Madeline resembles many of the genre’s most enduring protagonists. She’s a great character, and her creator is a great storyteller.
Caustic, gripping and distinctive—intelligent entertainment.