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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Killing Mr. Griffin

Lois Duncan

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To purchase Killing Mr. Griffin

Title: Killing Mr. Griffin
Author: Lois Duncan
Genre: Novel
Written: 1978, rev. 2010
Length: 260 pages
Availability: Killing Mr. Griffin - US
Killing Mr. Griffin - UK
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  • Includes a Q & A with the author by Barry Lyga
  • Killing Mr. Griffin was made into a movie in 1997, directed by Jack Bender

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, dark tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Killing Mr. Griffin begins with a cross-section of students from Brian Griffin's English class who are angry at their teacher. The demanding Mr.Griffin pushes them hard -- and doesn't accept excuses. Mark, who is already repeating the class because of past failures, should know better, but even an otherwise A-student like Susan is somewhat frustrated because he is such a tough grader.
       After class, when someone observes: "That Griffin's the sort of guy you'd like to kill" Mark pounces on the idea:

     "Well, why don't we then ?" Mark asked him.
     :"Why don't we what?"
     "Plan to kill the bastard."
       Friends Jeff and Betty are under Mark's sway, and willing to listen to his harebrained schemes. Mr.Griffin may not deserve to be killed, but he should be taught a lesson, so maybe kidnapping him and putting him in his place isn't that unreasonable a plan ..... And Mark already has a plan, complete with alibi -- David, the class president -- and decoy -- Susan, who has no connection to them but does have a thing for Dave, and could thus be made to go along with this.
       David and Susan let themselves be talked into this participating in this scheme, and the kidnapping goes off without much of a hitch. But after that things don't quite so well, and Mark's plan turns out to have a few weak spots after all, with small mistakes here and there also threatening to lead back to the perpetrators. But Mark, who turns out to have no scruples (nor much of anything else inside him) keeps trying to fix things -- and with even Susan arguing: "Mark has to know everything, or he won't be able to tell us what to do", he's able to lead them -- on past any point of return.
       Ambitious, hard-working David, whose father abandoned the family and who lives with his mother and grandmother, and Susan, who has a loving family with several siblings but feels like an outcast in school succumb to the peer pressure that the manipulative Mark uses so well, and and the difficulty of escaping from Mark's clutches once they're part of the plan is presented fairly convincingly.
       The character-portraits are quite well done, and Duncan shows some real writing chops in a few scenes and images, such as early on when Susan enters class:
She smiled tentatively at two girls in the front of the row, but they were talking to each other and did not seem to notice her, so she let her eyes shift away from them and clung tightly to the smile, as though it had not been for them at all but for some private joke that had come suddenly into her mind.
       Griffin is also an interesting (if almost too-good-to-be-true) character, presented as an idealistic teacher, a Stanford graduate who actually left a university teaching position to teach at high school, and who waited to start a family but now has a pregnant wife.
       There's decent suspense here, as Mark and his entourage must constantly take new steps as evidence and previous mistakes that are uncovered threaten to unmask them. The pregnant Mrs.Griffin also stays on the case -- knowing: "Something else happened to Brian, something I can't even begin to imagine, but Susan can". It works out pretty well (structurally speaking; not so well for pretty much all the characters), though even so Duncan does have to rely on the terrible recap-fallback (i.e. have one character give a summing-up account to another) to fill in the finals gaps and explain how everything turns out.
       This is pretty dark and ugly stuff too, though most of the worst is kept decorously off-stage (and -page) -- which is a bit disturbing, too, since it seems to make all this evil and ugliness more palatable, rather than confronting the horror head-on. Quite a bit of Killing Mr. Griffin is overly simplistic -- "It's like something out of a book", one character observes about the initial plan ... -- , but on the whole this is a successful and powerful work, and quite well done -- and certainly considerably better than Duncan's I Know What You Did Last Summer.
       (Note that this is now also a revised version, which means certain aspects have been updated -- so Mr.Griffin is now able to note: "Anybody can Google a word if he doesn't know its meaning", for example. It's a bit jarring, and doesn't feel quite right, but it's not too noticeable.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 November 2011

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Killing Mr. Griffin: Reviews: Killing Mr. Griffin - the film: Lois Duncan: Other books by Lois Duncan under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Lois Duncan lived 1934 to 2016.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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