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The Crazy School by Cornelia Read

The Crazy School is the second installment in Cornelia Read's Madeline Dare series.  The Crazy School, both as a book and as a place, is populated by characters who are all different kinds of crazy for all different kinds of reasons.  A Field of Darkness (Crazy's predecessor)  started off with a killer first line/paragraph that set the bar and tone for the rest of that novel.  The Crazy School doesn't have that distinction.  However, the book very quickly hooks the reader--once the story gets going, it's very hard to put down, and the chapters fly by.

It's the year after the events of A Field of Darkness.  While these events are referenced obliquely once or twice, it would be very easy for someone to jump into the series starting with this book and then catch up with the first one.  Me, I like to read a series in order.  Okay, let's just be honest: I HAVE to read a series in order, so I started with the first one and continued on through the third and most recent installment (the review for that one will be forthcoming).

It's 1989, and Madeline has finally made it out of Syracuse, New York, to settle in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts where she's found work at a boarding school for troubled teens.  The school is strict with its students and its faculty, requiring them to adhere to eccentric rules.  Both students and teachers are expected to abstain from smoking and caffeine...and participate in mandatory group and individual therapy sessions.

Unfortunately trouble finds Madeline wherever she goes because it's not long before two troubled and recently disciplined students are found dead in an apparent double suicide.  However, Madeline doesn't believe they killed themselves despite the fact that the couple had recently confided an unwanted pregnancy to her and sworn her to secrecy.  When she shares her suspicions with the police investigating the suicides, the tables quickly turn, and Madeline is arrested for the homicides.  It's immediately clear to readers and to Madeline (but not necessarily the police) that someone is doing an artful job of framing her.  As Madeline cobbles together bits of information, it becomes apparent that the current mad machinations are rooted in a twisted, horrifying tragedy perpetrated a decade ago, an ocean away and on another continent.

Who killed these students and why?  And who can Madeline trust at the school to help her track down the real murderer?  After the ending of the previous Dare book, it's extremely hard for the reader to trust that things are as they appear when it comes to who's on the straight and narrow and who's involved in diabolical misdeeds.  There is also the fact that after reading S.J. Bolton's debut novel, Sacrifice, I am nearly always suspicious of authority figures and just who can be trusted and who cannot be trusted when it comes to the life and death issues revolving around a whodunit murder/conspiracy mystery.  Reading Sacrifice will do that to a person.  Granted the majority of the time these fears are unwarranted once the book has been all read and done.

I highly recommend you pick up this book the next time you're at the library--it's got great characters, a great mystery, great suspense, and it's hard to put down right up to the very last page.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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