Eleven schoolgirls are haunted by their teacher’s inexplicable disappearance during a field trip in this atmospheric mystery set in Vietnam War–era Sydney.
Miss Renshaw’s young students know their teacher is a bit eccentric. They also understand that their class’s frequent poetry-writing excursions to a local garden are actually excuses for their teacher to see Morgan, a charismatic conscientious objector who is one of the gardeners. “It will be our little secret,” Miss Renshaw says of their meetings with Morgan, but that secret becomes a burden when Miss Renshaw and Morgan vanish during an outing. Through precise, vivid descriptions, the third-person narrative evokes the contrast between the girls’ cloistered school lives and the hard realities of the outside world. The students are “eleven schoolgirls in their round hats, with their socks falling down, hand in hand, like a chain of paper dolls”; meanwhile, soldiers are dying in Vietnam, and prisoners are being hanged at home. The mystery is less a whodunit and more a psychological study of the girls—especially anxious Cubby, whose friendship with sensible Icara is sorely tested by the affair—and invites comparisons to cult film classic Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975).
Read this slender mystery for the meticulous prose and characterization, not for the plot. (Historical mystery. 12-18)