Berkeley author Cornelia Read's new novel, The Crazy School, is about — well, as its own students would call it — a crazy school. A pair of mysterious deaths prompt Madeline Dare (who was also the heroine of Read's debut thriller, A Field of Darkness) to uncover creepy secrets at the last-resort academy for disturbed teenagers where she teaches English. Searching for clues, she realizes that her helpers in this pursuit won't be her colleagues but her students. And how disturbed are they? As the book begins, one responds to his latest homework assignment — Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings — by sassing Madeline: "I wouldn't read this piece of shit ... if you dropped to your knees and blew me." Madeline herself is no Miss Priss. She's a bit of a pottymouth herself, albeit a well-read one: Outraged at another character in a later scene, she vents: "The shithead. The fat greasy weasel. The smug nasty pompous low-rent-lumpen Tennessee-Williams-Big-Daddy suckbag of a potentate. O the mendacity!"
Madeline is from an old-money Long Island clan, as is her creator. Born into the tenth generation of her mother's family to live on Long Island's Centre Island, whose residents include Billy Joel and Rupert Murdoch, Read calls herself a "reformed debutante." Her prose veers back and forth between slang and youth-speak and Mayflower-esque allusions, as when Madeline muses over some Prozac capsules, "Pretty little things, those pills — one end jade green, the other tinted somewhere between butter and old scrimshaw." Published in hardcover last year, A Field of Darkness featured the often-unhappy but always honest Madeline striving to solve two decades-old murders — and was nominated for Edgar, Gumshoe, Audie, Macavity, and Barry awards. Meet Read at Diesel: A Bookstore (5433 College Ave., Oakland) at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 13. DieselBookstore.com
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