King turns from recording the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and his wife (The Murder of Mary Russell, 2016, etc.) to a more hard-edged and contemporary subject: the day a shooter seething with resentment descends on a coastal California school.
It’s Career Day at Guadalupe Middle School, and principal Linda McDonald is excited for all the wrong reasons. How is seventh-grader Chaco Cabrera handling his cousin Taco Alvarez’s arrest 11 months ago for the murder of Gloria Rivas? What’s become of Danny Escobedo, the boy Gloria was babysitting, who vanished the night she was killed? Is car dealer Chuck Cuomo likely to make waves over the disappearance of his own daughter, sixth-grader Beatrice? How goes it with sixth-grader Nick Clarkson, who suffered a nervous breakdown after Bee’s disappearance? Will the secret Linda’s husband, Gordon Hugh-Kendrick, is hiding remain safely concealed? What could possibly go wrong when 712 middle school students are asked to spend a whole day dreaming about their futures and meeting with prospective role models like Bee’s aunt, professor Allison Kitagawa, and basketball player Brendan Atcheson’s father, Thomas, who founded the software firm that’s made him the biggest man in San Felipe? In fact, the mundane worries, dreams, memories, and more fully elaborated back stories, variously inflected and amplified by the dozen points of view King flits among as the minutes tick down, are put in chilling perspective by a more urgent threat: a white van ferrying a heavily armed avenger closer and closer to Guadalupe Middle School.
“Your purpose is to show how things tie together,” the harried principal reflects as zero hour looms. King delivers, providing both a drama-filled anatomy of the school and a chance for its community to show its best by the way it confronts the worst Career Day imaginable.