Lois Duncan (Steinmetz Arquette) Hildagarde Gray - Essay

Hildagarde Gray

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Seldom has a book left me more apprehensive as to its merits than Killing Mr. Griffin. Good mysteries are always welcome, and today's young reader enjoys a psychological twist. After all, his favorite geography is that of the inner "me." Points in favor of the book include: fairly decent language, the bad guys get their just desserts, and families work out their problems. The teacher's (Mr. Griffin's) philosophy—"students should be challenged to do their best"—is viewed first from the side of the student and then, in a most perceptive chapter, from the teacher's side—"by the time they're in college it's too late to teach them to study … they expect to be entertained not educated. [As a high-school teacher] I wouldn't baby them or play games with them. I'd push each one into doing the best work of which he or she was capable…."

This very dedicated thinking leads into the plot. A handful of students are led by a psychopathic fellow student into kidnapping their perfectionist literature teacher, whose bad heart turns the "prank" into murder. An innocent girl, who joined the ranks out of a desperate need of acceptance, begins to crumble…. The story is exciting, loaded with suspense and terror, moves rapidly, and falls into the easy-to-read class, all factors that assure the book's constant circulation.

All these assets, however, are nullified by a story that absolutely invites the borderline delinquent to branch out into areas of rebellion that horrify when their potential is considered. Spin-offs—pranks to tease or harrass teachers—would be encouraged by the ease with which such events are presented here. Granted, the killers are caught and sentenced, but their reaction and fate are glossed over in the last page or two. I have become suspicious of books that tend to "blueprint" antisocial behavior for a generation that is surrounded by such information, via TV, movies, and current periodicals. Our obligation to the future must begin somewhere. Where better than in a child's recreational pursuits? (pp. 154-55)

Hildagarde Gray, in her review of "Killing Mr. Griffin," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1978 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 38, No. 5, August, 1978, pp. 154-55.