Amanda Pepper is always fun although it can sometimes be scary getting the inside scoop on high school life from a teacher's viewpoint. I liked the twist and turns in this mystery and the added dimension of Amanda and C.K.'s marriage.
No matter the season, the Philadelphia private school where Amanda Pepper teaches English is never a center of tranquility. But with Halloween and the annual Mischief Night party only days away, the hope is that nothing more than old-fashioned vandalism and pranks will take place. No such luck. Trouble erupts long before the witching hour, as the school is plagued by a series of mishaps ranging from the trivial to the potentially deadlyand most of which seem to center on a group of popular seniors.
A fire alarm rings during a test; all the orange and black paint is stolen from the art room; the mustard packets are taken from the cafeteria. Perhaps more serious: chemicals and equipment disappear from the science lab, as does one of Amandas exams and her attendance book. And the dapper new science instructor, Juan Reyes, receives a threatening message recalling that a teacher was once flayed to death by his students.
As Amanda juggles teaching, moonlighting as a private investigator with her husband, C. K. Mackenzie, and coping with C.K.s visiting sixteen-year-old high school-dropout nephew, she tries to find out what, or who, is behind the ominous events.
Before she can unmask the tricksters, the turmoil in the school increases when students rise up against the administrations censuring (and censoring) of a campus poet. Then unrest escalates into a lethally explosive menace, and Amanda receives a warning that there is moreand far worseto come.
Amanda teaches high school literature.
Something strange is going on and seems to be centered on Juan the new
science teacher, a young straight-laced man who is "by the book". He is
having difficulty achieving rapport with the high school class and with
the seniors in particular.
Amanda teaches many of the same students and becomes drawn into a
conflict that she cannot discern, at least as to origin and essential
nature. Things become serious when there is an explosion in the lab and
Juan is critically injured.
The story becomes more sinister and personal to Amanda by degrees and
reaches a climax with a cadre of seniors on the school rooftop in a
drama exceeding all expectations.
A very easy read. Written in a flowing style. Clever plot. I would
have wanted to make the plot move forward more deliberately if I were
writing. She enriches the story with lots of detail and possibly
Someone asked me whether it was more of a fully developed novel than a mystery. I responded that... a more fully developed drama. However, I wouldn't really think it interesting enough as drama without the mystery. It is too chatty, I would say for my taste when I am reading for the unfolding of the mystery. Also, I don't really think it is that good as a mystery. It is best when viewed as a social drama with the central theme being "First Amendment Rights". She uses literature, especially Shakespeare and other classics, to evoke the theme that fits our time. A self-outed teen gay is part of this puzzle. Caligula is one of the most significant figures from classical literature. The heroin's greatest triumph is in seeing her teaching work within the context of the lives and the understanding of the students. Albeit, the students themselves may be oblivious to the connections.