On the first day of term, Liz Hopewell clears clutter, plans lessons, and discovers a corpse. Marcia – polished, professional, and ever-so-superior – is sprawled on her classroom floor. Understandably enough, busy teachers and police leap to the comfortable explanation of “natural causes”.
Mysterious lesson plans and a tainted coffee cup raise Liz’s suspicions, but it’s hard to investigate with a full timetable (including some of Marcia’s classes) and a busy home life. Add to that a devastatingly handsome policeman, pushy parents, and possible further murders: Liz is definitely in danger of something, and only solving the mystery will reveal what.
The first thing to note about this book is the prose – it’s ornate and referential, even mannered. I like that kind of thing, but your mileage may vary; it’s definitely a good first-person portrayal of how an English teacher’s mind works.
Liz is an easy character to empathise with, if not always to agree with. She feels real, as though you could walk into a school and pull her out. Her motivations are complex and muddled, as are her relationships to other characters.
I don’t know as much as I’d like about the US education system, but I’m familiar with the day-to-day life of a UK teacher, and this book rings true; teachers/parents/students interact in realistic ways, and the whole school environment is very well-constructed.
The novel is a little more complex than it has time & space to be – the actual mystery takes a backseat to the character stuff, and I would have liked more detail on exactly how the investigation progresses and the clues are solved. It’s also clear that this is a setup for a series – key plotlines are introduced that aren’t resolved at all, because they are going to be longer-term arcs in later books.
Ultimately, the book ends up feeling rushed and somewhat unsatisfying. I liked the characters, I liked the narration, but this book is shorted than it should be, and more of a lead-in to book two than one that stands solidly on its own.
I’m interested to read a sequel – to see how the mystery gets developed now that the characters are fully established. Considered on its own though, this book all setup and unresolved mystery; interesting character and appealing narration isn’t quite a strong enough substitute for a plot that fizzles out a bit.
I received a copy of this through Netgalley. I don’t believe that I have been unduly influenced by this.