Captain Lacey moves away from London and into the country... His pal, Grenville, recommended him to an old Eton school pal who is the head schoolmaster at a boy's school. The headaster, Rutledge, is in need of a secretary, and Lacey thinks that this will give him the opportunity to add to his half-pay packet from the army - a chance to, perhaps, get ahead of his gentleman's poverty and breathe some fresh air.But, alas, mystery and murder seem to follow Lacey wherever he goes. Upon arriving at the school, Lacey discovers the primary reason the crusty curmudgeon Rutledge agreed to hire him was because Lacey has a reputation for solving mysteries. And someone or someones at the school have been playing viscous and escalating pranks - setting a fire in the maids quarters, putting some sort of poison in the port wine, and writing threatening letters in blood. And in the next day or so, the school's groom, whom Lacey recognizes as Middleton - one of Denis' former thugs, is found in the canal lock with his throat cut. Rutledge immediately accuses Sebastian, a Roma (gypsy) that Middleton hired; Romas are known for all manner of ills, so why not murder?Lacey sends to London for Grenville to join him, since Grenville is always keen for adventure. Lacey learns that Marianne, his former upstairs neighbor and gal who is "provided for" by gentlemen, is now under Grenville's care. But Marianne constantly runs away or hides; she doesn't like being kept in a gilded cage - she prefers to do her business her way. And besides, Grenville hasn't requested her "services"; he's given her money in the past, which has quickly vanished. Grenville suspects Marianne is giving the money to a man who ill-treats her. Lacey knows that regardless of the supplies that Marianne pilfers from him (candles, food, etc.), she seems to have little to nothing. When Grenville arrives at the school, he tells Lacey that Marianne has run away.Lacey is convinced that Sebastian has nothing to do with the murder. But Sebastian is trying to get away from his Romany heritage (thus the job as a groom) and has started a harmless love affair with Rutledge's daughter. On the night in question, Sebastian argued with Middleton and met Rutledge's daughter... and didn't arrive back to the barn before sunrise.Then there's Ramsey, a boy who admits to putting a snake in Lacey's bed, but no more. The boys school is home to boys whose fathers are not gentlemen by birth, but who make insane amounts of money in their "Cit" jobs as bankers, merchants, and so on. Ramsey's father is among the wealthiest, with the exception of Sutcliff, an obnoxious 17-year old who is Head Boy at the school. Sutcliff tells anyone who will listen about his coming wealth. And Sutcliff has a 19-year old French mistress hidden away in a nearby village; supposedly Sutcliff snuck out of the house (as witnessed by Ramsey) and spent the evening in question with his mistress, Jeanne. When Lacey encounters Marianne in that same village - in fact, the same house as Jeanne - Marianne says that Sutcliff does, indeed, visit often and was there that entire night.Lacey convinces Marianne to share her secret with him. She's afraid he'll tell Grenville, but Marianne does show Lacey her secret - where most (if not all) of the money she gets goes to. Lacey does not tell Grenville, even when Grenville discovers Marianne is nearby and that Lacey knows her secret. It's the only time, so far, that the two men have almost come to blows. But while Lacey knows that Grenville is very angry at him, their friendship seems to continue.Then there's the tutor, Fletcher, who keeps saying that he's about to come into money and will get far away from the school and teaching. But when Fletcher's books are burned, is it part of the viscous pranks or something else? Lacey goes to London to check out some theories of his, and even consults James Denis, who once again tries to lure Lacey into his ever-tightening web. Denis "procures" things for the right price, and he knows that Lacey's sense of honor is dangerous to him (Denis); so Denis has set about trying to put Lacey deep enough into his debt that Lacey will no longer be a threat. Since Middleton had worked for Denis at one time, Denis feels some obligation for him and his murder. Besides, Middleton was about to confide something in Denis - something that might be profitable. By the time Lacey starts to put the pieces together, he realizes that Grenville is in immediate danger, but Lacey falls ill for three days.By the time Lacey is able to return to the school, it's the middle of the night. Lacey and his valet stumble upon Grenville, who has been stabbed. Will Grenville survive the stab wound? Can Lacey stop the real murderer in time and not only reveal, but prove, who the murderer is and what his or her motives are?------------------I'm pleased that the "main" characters continue to grow and evolve as real people do. The friendship between Lacey and Grenville deepens, but also hits a bit of turbulence over Marianne. Lacey keeps Marianne's secret, which irks Grenville, but it means that Lacey's sense of honor is in tact -- and honor and "right" are among Lacey's most valuable and most dangerous character traits. To reveal Marianne's secret to Grenville would mean that Lacey isn't true to his own code.The mystery and murders are... almost secondary at times. The events and details unravel at an alarmingly slow rate, it seems. And while it's not tough to finger the murderer, the events are wrapped up in the pranks at the school - are they perpetrated by one and the same to cover up the other things happening behind closed doors? The book shows how money and power corrupt, making the perpetrator certain that no one can touch or stop his or her schemes. And the issue that the age of the gentleman is coming to an end -- that birth will soon step aside for those with money, and those with money (new money) will be honored and fawned upon, while the impoverished gentry will fade into nothing. While this doesn't happen historically until after World War I (at least not in England), it's clear that even in the early 1800s, the start of this revolution has begun.Good read!