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Killing Mr. Griffin    by Lois Duncan order for
Killing Mr. Griffin
by Lois Duncan
Order:  USA  Can
Laurel Leaf, 2011 (1978)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Multi-award winning author Lois Duncan is a favorite with young readers and teens (and with me too!) Readers who love her books recognize that some went from book-to-movie, such as the blockbuster I Know What You Did Last Summer. In Killing Mr. Griffin the well-known author achieves cover-to-cover suspense that does not disappoint!

The setting is Albuquerque, New Mexico near the Sandia Mountains. There are dust storms and tumbleweeds on this particular day as students enter Del Norte High School. Central cast members are: junior Susan McConnell and seniors David Ruggles, Betsy Cline, Mark Kinney, and Jeff Garrett. Susan's family includes three siblings, a loving mother and father, and plenty of noise at breakfast. Susan often dreams and voices somedays, as in 'someday I'm going to live in a cabin on the shore of a lake where everything is peaceful and green and the only sound is lapping water'. Susan is a grade A student; although a junior, she is in the English Literature & Composition class with seniors.

Mr. Brian Griffin, a graduate of Stanford University, was a college professor who decided to teach high school in order to inspire students to work to their potential and beyond, and reduce the high school drop-out rate. To his students' dismay, Mr. Griffin is extremely strict, not accepting excuses for not handing in an assignment - because of a basketball game the night before, or the fact that the strong wind blew away most of a student's homework. Excuses result in an automatic D to F, and makeup work is not accepted. Brian was in his thirties before he married his wife Kathy. The Griffins are expecting their first child.

Seniors Mark, Jeff, Betsy, and David discuss Mr. Griffin's strictness. Mark lives with his aunt and uncle as his father died in a fire, while his mother had a breakdown. He's a handsome guy with a talent for exerting control and leadership. Dave's father left some years ago; his mother works in an office keeping finances in line with her earnings, while both Dave and Mom look after Dave's live-in invalid grandmother. David dotes on his grandma, keeping track of her comfort before and after school, is class president, and hopes to achieve a scholarship for law school. Jeff is a follower of Mark's and remembers the time Mark set fire to a cat. Betsy is popular, not shy, and an admired cheerleader.

The four seniors begin to discuss Mr. Griffin and their dislike for him. A sentence in jest suggests a prank - Jeff mumbles under his breath 'That Griffin's the sort of guy you'd like to kill.' With Mark leading, the foursome agree that Mr. Griffin should be kidnapped, tied up with ropes, blindfolded, then taken to an area in the woods; threatened by words and the experience, then released. They plan what part each will play. Betsy sets up alibis, while they decide to involve a reluctant Susan McConnell. Once she agrees, her part will be to ask Mr. Griffin for a consult after class the next day to delay the teacher.

The four seniors wear masks and grab Mr. Griffin as he approaches his car. From a distance Susan hears the teacher warn her to 'Run', as the bag comes down over his head! This is the beginning of Susan's doubts about the whole caper. What began as a prank remains fun for just so long. They leave their captive in the woods and plan to get back to him after the basketball game. As the situation gets out of hand, the four captors need to stretch out their stories and make more plans. Mrs. Griffin has reported to the police that her husband is missing. Susan, identified as the last to see the teacher, is called to the principal's office. Mark prompts a frightened Susan on exactly what she should tell the principal and police.

Duncan's story builds to a crescendo as visitors to the woods find a prescription vial, and a mound of freshly dug earth. A speeding ticket comes into play, as do a lost college ring, a suspicious grandmother, and a wife who does not believe the story the four seniors have concocted. Readers should prepare - as Lois Duncan builds the story higher with astounding twists. Don't miss this magnificent read.

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