From the Publisher
“Kara Taylor's Prep School Confidential series is Veronica Mars meets Dennis Lehane... Refreshingly smart and quick-witted, Taylor's is a thoroughly optimistic portrayal of American education, peppered with references to Milton and Spenser, and she writes the kind of honest portrayal of teenagers that only someone who recently was one can. Almost-totally-reformed party girl Anne is a thoughtful, empathetic character with a strong moral compass, someone young readers can relate to while still enjoying a fast-paced murder mystery. As a twenty-something author, Kara Taylor shows incredible promise.” Portland Book Review on Wicked Little Secrets
“Anne's honest and whip-smart voice demonstrates her strength of character and intuition as she observes the differences between the elite of New York City and Boston. In this first book in a planned series, first-time author Taylor blends thriller and contemporary fiction elements in a tightly developed plot. Anne's romance with two boys from vastly different social backgrounds offers insight into the heroine's conflicted, yet emerging sense of morality.” Publishers Weekly on Prep School Confidential
“A fast-moving murder mystery with preppy overtones and a determined heroine... Heavy overtones of Nancy Drew combine with a sassy boarding school spin for a fizzy read.” Kirkus on Prep School Confidential
“Still mourning the demise of Gossip Girl? This new series about private school girls behaving badly will fill the void left by your favorite up-to-no-good Upper East Siders... This book has more intrigue than Serena had boyfriends, which says everything.” TeenVogue.com on Prep School Confidential
“Taylor's book shines with a truly puzzling plot, a grisly murder that speaks to her audience's maturity, and a couple of good red herrings. Her sleuth... is charming and wise beyond her years.” RT Book Reviews on Prep School Confidential
“This book rocks! Seriously, do not pass this one up. Prep School Confidential is one of the best books I've read all year. It's scandalously delicious in the same vein as Pretty Little Liars and Revenge, with a wickedly clever plot that kept me guessing right up until the end. If I could give this book a 100 stars, I totally would!” Gemma Halliday, New York Times bestselling author of Honeymoon in High Heels on Prep School Confidential
“Frenetic and captivating, Kara Taylor's Prep School Confidential is a whirlwind of secrets, lies, and scandals. I whipped through the pages, frantic to discover the killer.” Jill Hathaway, author of Slide on Prep School Confidential
“Fast-paced, suspenseful and scarily believable, Prep School Confidential is everything a good murder mystery should be. I was completely drawn into the world of the Wheatley School where every student and teacher has a secret they'd kill to protect. It will keep you guessing as you race to the end!” Daisy Whitney, author of The Mockingbirds and When You Were Here on Prep School Confidential
“With a clever and fresh voice, Kara Taylor's Prep School Confidential had me laughing one moment and on pins and needles the next. The amazing blend of humor and suspense will have you turning pages like crazy. I can't wait for the next installment!” Ingrid Paulson, author of Valkyrie Rising on Prep School Confidential
“With just the right amount of gossip and glamour, Prep School Confidential is a smart, darkly delicious, thrill-ride of a mystery. Impossible to put down!” Kimberly Derting, Award-Winning Author of The Body Finder on Prep School Confidential
“Prep School Confidential is an awesome read! ...One of my favorite parts is Anne herself... There are enough twists and turns in the story that a seasoned mystery fan will be rubbing their head over who actually killed Isabella.” inallseries-ousness.blogspot.com on Prep School Confidential
“Anne becomes a sort of Nancy Drew-you know, if Nancy Drew burned down schools and kisses hot guys who smoke... What a fun, fun book! I could not put this one down. There are so many twists and turns here, so many times I thought I knew whodunnit when in actuality I was waaaay off base (so, what I'm saying is I have no future as a detective). Anne was a strong character who did dangerous, stupid things, but you have to love her for it. I liked her drive to solve Isabella's murder. Considering she barely knew her, I there was such an intensity in her need to find justice. At the same time, I also really enjoyed the fact that there were questionable things about so many of the characters. Things that made you look twice and wonder if they could be trusted. Taylor did a fabulous job layering the story with questions, and tension.” yacrush.wordpress.com on Prep School Confidential
VOYA, December 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 5) - Beth Karpas
Anne Dowling’s fans from the previous Prep School Confidential mysteries will be thrilled to follow her on her continuing misadventures, this time inspired by her favorite teacher, Ms. Cross, who disappeared toward the end of the last volume. While Anne can be annoyingly self-centered and stubborn at times, she is clearly curious and intelligent. Readers will find themselves thinking, “No, wait, don’t do that” as they watch her through the pages, and many will breathe a sigh of relief at the end. The book’s largest fault is a benefit for previous fans: it is full of spoilers from the previous two mysteries, making it a bit confusing for new readers. Why exactly is Anne grounded? Why would she want to return to Wheatley School? Who is which boy? What tunnels is she looking for? Why does she not trust the dean? Who shot whom? Those who have been following the series, however, will not be bored by the type of plot summaries frequently found in other later series books. New readers who persevere to follow Anne’s investigation through numerous twists and turns and past allusions will be rewarded with a well-crafted, surprising solution. They will not learn all the history, though they may know too much to go back and read earlier volumes. This volume wraps up all the loose ends from previous volumes, and the last two pages provide hope for future adventures in a much larger world than prep school. Reviewer: Beth Karpas; Ages 15 to 18.
Read an Excerpt
The first time I looked death in the face, I blinked and it was gone.
They say your life is supposed to flash before your eyes, but all I remember is the moment after. The adrenaline that filled me, knowing I survived. The weightlessness of having dodged a bullet. Literally.
Watching someone else die was different.
The details are the hardest to forget. The smell of cinnamon and pine furniture polish. The sound of glass breaking in the front door. And worst of all, the way Travis Shepherd’s eyes froze as the life left his body.
It’s been more than two months since Anthony and I watched Steven Westbrook shoot Shepherd, his former classmate, in the chest. Since then, I’ve been unofficially expelled from the Wheatley School, grounded for what’s quite possibly the rest of my teenage years, and exiled from my friends.
I know that having my phone, computer, and social life taken away is my parents’ way of ensuring I have nothing to do all summer but think about the things I’ve done. If only they knew the whole story—the one that starts with a thirty-year-old photo of a missing student and ends with watching his killer die on the floor of his own foyer—they’d understand that I could never not think about what I’ve done.
I would give anything to be able to close my eyes and not picture the blood blossoming around the hole in Travis Shepherd’s chest. If I could, I’d stop it from happening in the first place.
Even though he killed four people, including a five-year-old boy. Even though deep down, I believe that Travis Shepherd deserved to die.
Or maybe that’s what I want to believe, because if I’d gone to the police instead of Alexis Westbrook that night, Shepherd would be alive.
It was like a horrible move in a game of chess—a move where bam, all of your pieces get captured. Shepherd is dead, Steven Westbrook is in jail, and Headmaster Goddard is in hiding. The only person at Wheatley I thought I could trust—Ms. Cross, my favorite teacher—disappeared without a trace.
As for me, I’m the Knight that got kicked back to New York. Right back where I started, but so, so far away from the person I was.
And every day that goes by without word from Ms. C, I can’t help but wonder if she was a pawn all along.
* * *
I still don’t know where I’m going to school in the fall. My parents said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” which obviously means no one wants me. There was a time I would have made that work in my favor. Now, I mostly just stay out of their way and hope I don’t end up at a school where everyone either has a baby or a probation officer.
I technically haven’t been expelled from Wheatley. Yet. My disciplinary hearing has been postponed until July, because of “internal restructuring.” Which is a fancy euphemism for the fact that Wheatley, formerly Massachusetts’s number-one secondary preparatory school, is up shit’s creek.
The administration of the mighty Wheatley School has fallen and now Jacqueline Tierney, aka Dean Snaggletooth, is the last person standing. Maybe she’ll wind up running the place. If you ask me, they could use a womanly touch over there, even though Tierney has all the femininity of a jockstrap.
Anyway, none of that matters because the board is almost certain to turn my suspension into an expulsion, which will mark my second expulsion from a school this year.
The official citation in the letter Dean Tierney sent home said I “assaulted another student.” I guess they were willing to give me a break for using a Taser on Larry Tretter, the boys’ crew team coach and Travis Shepherd’s accomplice, since he’s currently in jail for conspiracy to commit murder.
The version of the story I gave Tierney and my parents is that I used the Taser on Coach Tretter because he was beating the crap out of Casey, Travis Shepherd’s son. Then I took a couple shots of my own at Casey, just for being a Class A douche.
My parents were probably too pissed at me to dig further into what happened. My dad wanted to know why, if I had to kick a boy in the balls, I couldn’t wait to do it until we were off-campus. My mom just wanted to know where I got the Taser.
Their reactions probably explain a lot about why I am the way I am.
So my sentence for being not-officially-but-basically-expelled was virtual confinement to our apartment until the hearing. At first it wasn’t so bad, because I had a ton of schoolwork to finish. Then I turned in my final exams and realized I had no purpose in life. I was a prisoner in my own home. Except I think I’d prefer actually being in jail, because then I wouldn’t have to see my parents every day.
I told my dad this, and he didn’t think it was very funny. He decided I needed an attitude adjustment in the form of going to work with him.
His plan to further my misery backfired, though, because I love interning in his law office. I get to research cases and read trial transcripts, and my dad’s assistant Leah lets me tag along when she picks up lunch. If we have time, we browse Sephora or the bookstore and I get to feel like a real human being again.
Today is a particularly glorious day, because my father has to be in court at nine A.M. I’ve been waiting for this moment for weeks.
“Go straight to the office,” he says as we cross 51st Street outside our apartment. “I’m calling Leah in ten minutes to make sure you’re there.”
“Dad, chill. I already snuck out to meet my meth dealer last night.”
He whirls around and gives me the worst look I’ve ever seen. “You are not half as funny as you think you are.”
Well, that’s a little upsetting, because I think I’m hilarious. I lift the hair off the back of my neck and tie it into a loose bun. I’m already planning which layers of clothing I can ditch when I get to the office.
“I mean it, Anne,” he says when we’re across the street. He lifts his hand up, as if he wants to say something else, but lowers it. “Make sure you’re home by five fifteen.”
I give him a captain’s salute, even though I know it irritates him. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s like I feel if I keep digging my hole, eventually it’ll get deep enough that I can disappear.
I catch Leah by the thermostat when I get to the office. Since my dad will be gone all day, we can crank the central air without him bitching about the bill.
And if I play my cards right, I can check my email for the first time in weeks.
Seconds after I set my bag on the extra desk, Leah drops a stack of collated papers on my desk. “Need you to read up on State of New York versus Helen Peters. I flagged the pages.”
Crap. This is going to take me at least until lunch. As I flip through the photocopied pages, I watch Leah at her desk. She rolls away from the computer on her chair and starts thumbing through a stack of legal journals.
“I need to make a couple more copies,” she says. “Think you can handle the phone if anyone calls?”
“Remember, no personal calls. Your dad will find out.”
“I know,” I say. “He’s got this place under Homeland levels of surveillance.”
Leah flounces out the door. I’m not stupid—she’s going down to the lobby to call her boyfriend. First off, we have a perfectly good copy machine in the back room. Second, she didn’t even take the journal with her.
It makes me feel a little less lousy about using her computer. When I hear the elevator ping, I slide into her chair and log into my email.
I was able to sneak a few emails to Brent Conroy—my ex-boyfriend—before my dad figured out I was using my school email for personal business. Disappointment needles me when I see he hasn’t replied to my last message. He’s in England for the summer, visiting family, so I can only assume he’s met a British girl with an adorable gap between her front teeth.
Brent and I broke up under epically bad circumstances. I snooped through his phone so I could follow him and the rest of the crew team into the woods during one of their hazing rituals. And I also may have implied his father was involved in Matt Weaver’s murder.
The fact that Anthony, the other guy I was kind-of-sort-of involved with, hasn’t responded to any of my emails isn’t surprising either. The last time I saw him, we’d just made a promise to each other not to tell anyone what we saw in Travis Shepherd’s house. Then I had to leave Wheatley without getting the chance to say good-bye. He probably thinks I did it on purpose—almost as if I wanted to leave him, and everything we saw together, behind.
The more I think about it, I don’t blame either one of them for wanting nothing to do with me.
I take a deep breath as I scan my in-box; it catches in my throat when I spot a message from Muller, Rowan. It’s dated two weeks ago.
Dr. Muller is a physics teacher at the Wheatley School. I saw him hanging around campus with Ms. Cross a few times before she disappeared. He was the one who called and told me I shouldn’t bother trying to find Ms. C—I had to hang up before he could tell me why.
All he’d said was that Jessica Cross doesn’t really exist.
I open the email.
I apologize for the delay. I’d preferred not to say what I had to tell you through email as long as I was still employed by Wheatley, but my situation has changed. Is there any chance you could speak in person when I’m in New York at the beginning of August? In the meantime, I think you should check out the following.
He’s pasted two links in the email. I click on the first, which leads to a LinkedIn profile for a Jessica L. Cross from Cliftonville, Georgia. According to the page, she has a double BA in English and classic languages from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her current occupation is listed as “teacher.”
And the woman in the black-and-white photo is definitely Ms. C.
I don’t understand—all of this fits with what Ms. Cross told me about herself. I x out of the page and click the second link. The page takes forever to load—I glance at the door to make sure Leah isn’t on her way up, but the hall is quiet.
The page—an article from the Cliftonville Gazette—finally loads. I have to blink a few times to process what I’m reading.
An obituary for Jessica Leigh Cross, who died eight years ago.
Copyright © 2014 by Kara Taylor