Another bucolic fall in northern New Hampshire, and the semester is under way at Bishop's Hill Academy. But the school year starts off less than tranquil. The new headmaster, Jim Hawthorne, has liberal ideas that the staff finds far from welcome. Serene on the surface, the ivy-clad, tree-lined campus gives few clues to the school's history of special privileges, petty corruptions, and hidden allegiances. But as autumn advances, the affable smiles and pretenses of virtue wear thin. And as winter closes in, students, teachers, and staff get an education in savagery and murder.