REVIEW: THE AFFLICTION, BY BETH GUTCHEON

 

Since retiring as head of a famous New York City private school, Maggie Detweiler is busier than ever. Chairing a team to evaluate the faltering Rye Manor School for girls, she will determine whether, in spite of its fabled past, the school has a future at all. With so much on the line for so many, tensions on campus are at an excruciating pitch, and Maggie expects to be as welcome as a case of Ebola virus.

At a reception for the faculty and trustees to “welcome” Maggie’s team, no one seems more keen for all to go well than Florence Meagher, a star teacher who is loved and respected in spite of her affliction—that she can never stop talking.

Florence is one of those dedicated teachers for whom the school is her life, and yet the next morning, when Maggie arrives to observe her teaching, Florence is missing. Florence’s husband, Ray, an auxiliary policeman in the village, seems more annoyed than alarmed at her disappearance. But Florence’s sister is distraught. There have been tensions in the marriage, and at their last visit, Florence had warned, “If anything happens to me, don’t assume it’s an accident.”

Two days later, Florence’s body is found in the campus swimming pool.

Maggie is asked to stay on to coach the very young and inexperienced head of Rye Manor through the crisis. Maggie obviously knows schools, but she also knows something about investigating murder, having solved a mysterious death in Maine the previous year when the police went after the wrong suspect. She is soon joined by her madcap socialite friend Hope, who is jonesing for an excuse to ditch her book club anyway, before she has to actually read Silas Marner.

My Thoughts: When I see a book authored by Beth Gutcheon, I am all in. I wasn’t sure about the boarding school aspect of The Affliction, but the great characters and the wonderful writing kept me turning the pages. Soon I was lost in the story and the discoveries along the way.

The sheer number of possible suspects kept me guessing, but by the time I had settled on the who and the why of the most likely suspect’s actions, I was lost in the fascination of the various routes that Maggie and Hope took to try to find some proof. The police were quite diligent, too, which is always a good thing in small town crime. But a suspect connected to important people cannot be hauled in on circumstantial evidence. By the end, all seemed hopeless. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, an astonishing series of actions taken by an unexpected individual turned everything into a certain kind of justice. 5 stars

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