Tom Mason, high school teacher, is preparing for the new term and for a new round of school politics. He is the union's building rep. An election for union president is impending, and both Jerome Blenkinsop and Seth O'Brien are seeking Tom's support.
Belutha Muffin of the religious right is applying for election at the PTA meeting. Questions are likely to be raised since Tom and his lover Scott, a famous baseball player, have spent the summer being interviewed on television and radio about their relationship. Tom decides to avoid the meeting, and is woken in the night with the news that his librarian friend Meg Swarthmore has been arrested for Jerome's murder.
Jerome has been battered with a copy of Smith's Comprehensive Encyclopedia which has Meg's fingerprints on it. Meg refuses to speak to Tom. Nonetheless convinced of her innocence, he questions many people who were at the meeting: Agnes Davis, former union president, Beatrix Xury, discontented teacher, Carolyn Blackburn, district superintendent, Trevor Thompson, young gay teacher, Lydia Marquez, conservative school board member, among others.
Tom finds another copy of the Encyclopedia, stained with Jerome's blood, in his classroom. The discovery makes the case more complicated, and puts Tom himself under suspicion.
It emerges that Jerome had a secret conservative agenda to overturn recent liberal reforms. The conservative faction is deeply divided by old enmities. Lydia tells Tom that she believes Belutha Muffin is guilty; in retaliation, Belutha gives her own version, talking about the in-fighting and Beatrix's involvement with both sides. Then there is another murder.
This report prepared by Maureen Evans