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By Cornelia Read

Grand Central Publishing (Hatchette Book Group), 2008 ($23.99)
ISBN-10: 044658259X
ISBN-13: 978-0-446-58259-9

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Madeline Dare and hubby Dean moved from the gritty rust belt city of Syracuse to the tranquil Berkshires in western Massachusetts on the promise of a better job for Dean. When the job doesnít pan out, Maddie has to bring in the bacon. She takes a teaching job at the Santangelo Academy, a place for disturbed -- and disturbing -- high school kids. It doesnít take her long to sense something is rotten in the state of Massachusetts. The school has some unusual practices -- everyone associated with it must take therapy, including the staff and the childrenís parents. Failure to do so results in harsh punishments. Maddie hasnít had a lot of experience in this field, but she knows things just arenít right, and, being Maddie, she has to challenge the system.

Maddie becomes attached to the kids, and is devastated when two of them die, in what Dr. Santangelo insists is a double suicide pact. When Maddie and Lula, her only ally at the school, try to find out what really happened, they are quickly, and in Maddieís case, violently, discouraged. Not that a little attempted murder will stop our girl. Instead of quitting, she accepts a promotion, more determined than ever to find out the truth about the alleged suicides and help the troubled teens she cares about so much.

Very serious issues are at stake in the book, and they are handled with sensitivity, but thereís also some dang fine humor. Maddie gets along great with the kids because she identified with them. She can cuss with the best of them, hold her own in a sarcasm contest, and tell them which roar of the MGM lion to use to start the Pink Floyd song when watching The Wizard of Oz while stoned. They trust her, and when the chips are down they have her back.

This is the second entry in the Madeline Dare series, and it is every bit as fine as Readís first, A FIELD OF DARKNESS, nominated for the Edgar Award. I predict Ms. Read has a very bright future as a writer. The very talented Lee Child agrees with me, so I know Iíll be proven right. Anyone who quotes Arlo Guthrie and his iconic song, Aliceís Restaurant, is a winner in my book.

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