In 1989, Madeline Dare and her husband, Dean, leave Syracuse, New York, when Madeline accepts a teaching position at the Santangelo Academy in the Berkshires, a residential school for troubled students. The teens are on various chemical compounds to control their behavior, and the teachers indulge in self-help meetings to explore interpersonal work relationships.
Apparently all the teachers at this school enthusiastically drank the Santangelo Kool Aid, for whatever reasons. Madeline has a secret in her past - a murder - although the details are never explained to the reader (who apparently must read the prior novel to learn about Madeline’s past and how it brings her to this place). Only Madeline and her friend Lulu treat the experience at the Academy with any skepticism, questioning the ‘60’s psycho-babble remix that has turned David Santangelo into a millionaire and allowed his school to flourish.
But all is not well in happy land. Two of the students, a boyfriend and girlfriend, are found dead in an apparent suicide pact, although Madeline doesn’t believe for a moment that this was anything but murder. And she has her reasons. Unfortunately, the police look to Madeline as the culprit when the evidence points directly at her.
In fighting-back mode, Madeline explores what really happened, although she is warned by counsel not to speak to anyone about the case. But what would this story be without Madeline’s inability to keep her business to herself? In a predictable if messy denouement, Madeline steps over a pile of dead bodies, barely surviving her own brush with fate yet victorious in the face of danger.
From the touchy-feely school environment to the sudden violence that takes the lives of two students and three teachers, this mystery fails to gel in any significant way. Madeline bluffs her way through an often unbelievable scenario where a bunch of adults allow themselves to be dominated by an authoritarian bully in velvet gloves and a cape.
Although Madeline’s husband is a welcome antidote to the psychodrama of the Academy, nothing relieves the absurdities offered in this plot. The dialog is decent, but there is never enough meat on this carcass to make a meal worth eating.