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337 pages, Hardcover
First published June 3, 2021
Accompanying the housekeeper on shopping trips to the crowded and frenetic market in the center of Athens always made Mariana nervous. And she was relieved, and a little surprised, to return home unscathed. Large groups continued to intimidate her as she grew older. At school, she found herself on the sidelines, feeling as if she din't fit in with her classmates. And this feeling of not fitting in was hard to shake. Years later, in therapy, she came to understand that the schoolyard was simply a macrocosm of the family unit: meaning her uneasiness was less about the here and now—less about the schoolyard itself, or the market in Athens, or any other group in which she might find herself—and more to do with the family in which she grew up, and the lonely house she grew up in.
Mariana grew up with a keen awareness of [her mother's] loss. As a therapist, she knew a baby's first sense of self comes through its parents' gaze. We are born being watched—our parents' expressions, what we see reflected in the mirror of their eyes, determines how we see ourselves. Mariana had lost her mother's gaze—and her father, well, he found it hard to look at her directly.
Most of the teaching...was done on a one-to-one basis, between fellow and student, usually taking place in the fellow's rooms. At any time after midday, or even earlier, at the discretion of the fellow concerned, alcohol was invariably served...providing an education in drinking as well as literature.
It also meant that tutorials took on a more personal flavor, and lines between teacher and pupil became blurred—confidences were given, and intimacies exchanged.
"I can see you have cast me as the villain—a predator preying on my vulnerable students. Except now you're met these young ladies, you can see there's nothing vulnerable about them. Nothing untoward happens at these meetings—it's just a small study group, discussing poetry, enjoying wine and intellectual debate."
"Except now one of those girls is dead."
Professor Fosca frowned. There was an unmistakable flash of anger in his eyes. He stared at her. "Do you think you can see inside my soul?"
Mariana looked away, embarrassed by the question. "No, of course not. I didn't mean—"
"Forget it." He took another drag of his cigarette, all anger apparently gone. "The word 'psychotherapist,' as you know, comes from the Greek 'psyche,', meaning 'soul,' and 'therapeia,' meaning 'healing.' Are you a healer of souls? Will you heal mine?"
"No. Only you can do that."
Fosca dropped his cigarette onto the path. He ground it into the earth with his foot. "You're determined to dislike me. I don't know why."
Fosca smiled. "Good...My rooms, at eight? And one more thing—"
Before she could stop him, he leaned forward—
And he kissed her on the lips.
It only lasted a second. By the time Mariana could react, he had already pulled back.
Fosca turned and went through the open gate. Mariana heard him whistling as he walked away.
She brushed away the kiss with her fist.
How dare he?
She felt as if she had been assaulted—attacked; and that he had won somehow, succeeded in wrong-footing, intimidating her.
"I have a gift for that sort of thing, you know—runs in my family—foresight, premonitions. I see things others do not."
As soon as any group establishes itself, it always arouses envy and attack—and not just from forces on the outside, those excluded from the group, but also from dark and dangerous forces within the group itself.
It felt as if a kind of pestilence, a plague, were spreading through the college—like in a Greek myth, the sickness that destroyed Thebes; an invisible airborne poison drifting through the courtyards—and these ancient walls, once a refuge from the outside world, no longer offered any protection.When Zoe calls her aunt from Cambridge to tell her that her best friend has gone missing, Mariana Andros, a group therapist in London, heads to her alma mater immediately. In no time she has ID’d a likely suspect and proceeds to find out everything she can, hoping, expecting to show that Professor Edward Fosca is a murderer.
Mariana couldn’t help but feel a little skeptical—her background in group therapy told her, as a rule, to be suspicious of any group in love with a teacher; those situations rarely ended well.But, Mariana may not be in the best frame of mind to take this all on. We would expect that a trained psychotherapist would be a good judge of people, but looking at the world from behind the veil of her grief, gives us cause to question her judgements. She is still mourning the loss of her beloved husband, Sebastian, who had drowned a year ago, while they were vacationing on the island of Nexos, a vacation she had pushed him to take. Guilt much?
I thought a lot about the secretive nature of groups as I was writing - especially within Cambridge. There are groups within groups. I studied group therapy myself, that's what I specialize in. It all goes back to the classic mysteries that I love, from authors like Agatha Christie: Everything is always set in an enclosed location, like an isolated house, a train, a private island. Cambridge is similar.
Death was no stranger to Mariana; it had been her traveling companion since she was a child—keeping close behind her, hovering just over her shoulder. She sometimes felt she had been cursed as if by some malevolent goddess in a Greek myth, to lose everyone she ever loved.