Nancy Miller
July 25, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Jacket copy can’t do this book justice. In her second novel, British author Heller (Everything You Know) elevates a tabloid-worthy tale of obsession into an intense, witty, literary page-turner. Narrator Barbara Covett is a prim, lonely, 60ish schoolteacher who painstakingly pursues a close friendship with a vivacious new art teacher, Sheba Hart. But soon after her arrival, 41-year-old Sheba begins a torrid affair with a 16-year-old male pupil, and Barbara quickly feels betrayed. Though Sheba’s demise is apparent, Heller brilliantly teases out the details of the scandal and fleshes out the increasingly sinister Barbara, who rivals Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley in spine-chilling creepiness.

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