This is the second Cornelia Read novel I’ve read in the last few months which is obviously a sign that I enjoy an author. The first was Invisible Boy which chronologically comes after The Crazy School. I hope to read her other two books Field of Darkness and Valley of Ashes soon. Read’s books center on Madeline Dare an old money debutante whose family fortune is so old that, according to her, it no longer exists. Raised by parents who fully embraced the hippy love vibe of the late sixties/early seventies she finds her tolerance for any est like analysis to be fairly thin. Therefore teaching at a private school which employees such therapeutic methods are problematic for her. The students come from all over the nation after most have been kicked out of prestigious academies due to behavior issues of all kinds.
As with Invisible Boy, Dare becomes an impromptu investigator after a situation that initially looked like suicide might actually be murder.
What I like about Read’s books is the witty dialogue and droll observations. I don’t know if her narrative would speak to all readers but for those of us who came of age in the eighties I think she is spot on. The main element that I find problematic with her novels, it is an earnestness she attempts to give Dare in terms of social justice. Maybe because of a background in social work, it takes a lot more to shock me in terms of the horrors of child abuse and trendy faux therapy methods. It feels as if Dare is dipping her toe into a world where a crack addled woman proves not to be an ideal mother or the revelation that sexual abuse can happen in a school geared for troubled teens. If one is to believe that Dare carries the psychological scars of having been exposed to the irresponsibleness of her parents’ lifestyle, then crack addicts and bi-polar teens should feel a bit more tried and true.
The thing that I discovered while writing this review is that my reflections on both novels differ greatly from the feelings I had when I was reading them. I don’t know if this is the case for most mystery novels, a genre of which I’m not overly familiar, or if Read’s plots were truly on the ridiculous side where everything was a tad too convenient in terms of the real culprits. I still found both novels worthy of recommendations but attribute my praise more to Read’s writing style than the actual storylines. However with that said, I admit that I felt a twinge of nostalgia when Dare had to stay late for a teacher’s meetings and the staff were forced to do some obscenely stupid therapy exercises. Seriously, no job should require its employees attend some sort of weekly group therapy session…it is just too torturous!
I recommend The Crazy School and Invisible Boy particularly for women of a certain age. Where Read shines are her observations of time periods past. I should note that the novels aren’t written as reflections from the present to the past, they just take place in the past, but still you can almost hear the techno dance music fade into more Grunge and Rap sensibilities. I think this is the reason why I want to read Read’s other novels because I want to know where Dare goes and if her observations of the changes will be similar to mine.