An inexperienced, grieving teacher discovers the monster lurking within one of her seemingly innocent charges.
Since her fiance, Luke, unexpectedly died, Alex Morris has lost interest in her work as a sought-after theatrical director. Now she simply wants to get out of London, to get away from everything that reminds her of Luke. So when her former drama teacher, Robert, offers her a temporary teaching position in Edinburgh, she jumps at the opportunity. A last chance for children who either cannot or will not function well at other institutions, the school is housed in a creepy Gothic structure, and Alex’s classroom is, of course, in the basement, the architectural equivalent of the school’s repressed psyche, complete with musty smells, bad lighting, and surly, emotionally disturbed students: scrappy Ricky; dark, lumbering Jono; petite, neat Carly; beautiful, hostile Annika; and deaf, eager Mel. Debut novelist (and former comedian) Haynes deftly captures the anxiety that is characteristic of a novice teacher’s mind, as well as the snarkiness of the teenage students. Rather dubiously reasoning that drama therapy could help them exorcise their darker fears, Alex decides to teach Greek tragedies to her young charges. She encourages them to keep journals reflecting upon the disturbed characters, and she can't help but answer their increasingly probing questions about her own troubled past. Soon enough, the plays, riddled with guilt and vengeance, inspire one of her students to follow Alex on her days off, hoping to discover her secrets. Like a Greek tragedy, the tale drives inexorably toward a calamitous revelation—a revelation rather heavily foreshadowed by the title and the students’ syllabus.
Sharply drawn characters, damaged and raw, enrich the psychological dimensions of this angst-filled mystery.