The book opens by introducing Mariana, who is certain that a man named Edward Fosca has murdered two people, and she is determined to find a way to prove it.
Chapters 1 – 6
The story then flashes back to a few days ago, with Mariana at home in London, who is still grieving her late husband, Sebastian, who died over a year ago. That October night, she gets a call from her niece Zoe in Cambridge, right after her Monday-evening, nine-person group therapy session (which is when Mariana’s nightmare begins).
Mariana is a group therapist. Mariana grew up in Greece on the outskirts of Athens. Mariana’s father was a sailor, a wealthy, complicated man who lacked emotional warmth. Mariana’s mother died soon after she was born, while Mariana’s older sister, Elisa, was seven years older and uninterested in her younger sibling. As a result, Mariana ended up being someone who preferred solitude and shied away from large groups. Still, despite her dislike of being with groups of people, Mariana is good at her job as a group therapist.
This Monday night, there’s a disagreement between Henry Booth, 35, and Liz, a retired schoolteacher in her mid-seventies, over Henry bringing a cup of coffee in despite it being against the rules, which results in Henry throwing the cup of coffee onto the floor. Henry has been a source of constant conflict in the group. A high-traumatized victim of physical and sexual abuse and former foster kid. Henry is intelligent, but self-destructive. Mariana ends up having to diffuse the situation between the two.
Afterwards, Henry stays to help clean up. When they’re alone, Mariana mentions to Henry that he needs to stop trying to bring her gifts and spying on her. Then, Henry tells her he needs individual therapy. When she refuses, he shows her his torso, which is covered in cuts from a razor blade, some of which are still bleeding.
Mariana knows she should be firm and tell him to leave. When Zoe calls, she settles on giving him a first aid kit and showing him the door. Afterwards, she calls Zoe back, who tells her to turn on the TV.
On the TV, it’s reported that the body has been found by a man walking his dog in Cambridge, in the Paradise nature reserve. The deceased girl, roughly 20-years-old with long red hair, had been stabbed repeatedly. Zoe believes the girl is her friend Tara Hampton who is the same year as her at St Christopher’s College at Cambridge University. Zoe also mentions that Tara had been saying some “crazy” things when she saw her last night.
After the call, Mariana has a glass of wine and finds herself worried about Zoe and a murderer on the loose. She packs a bag to head over to Cambridge to see Zoe for a few days.
Chapter 7 (October 7)
(This chapter is narrated by an unnamed person, who identifies themselves as “the villain”.)
The unnamed narrator talks about being two people with one mind. One part of him is calm and sane, the other part of him is a bloodthirsty killer. The sane part of him doesn’t want to kill. The twisted part of him doesn’t know why he ended up this way, but is unable to communicate with the sane part of him. He wants to be the hero of his story, but he knows that he’s the villain.
Chapters 8 – 11
The next morning, Mariana thinks she spots Henry spying on her again, but when she looks back, he’s gone. She then makes her way onto the fast train to Cambridge. On the way, she hopes that Zoe is mistaken about the dead girl’s identity, since Tara was the first friend that Zoe had made at Cambridge.
Mariana also thinks about her and Sebastian meeting at Cambridge when she was 19. At 18, Mariana had moved from Athens to England. Mariana had long romanticized England, since her late mother was English. At school, Mariana had been shy, bookish and had struggled to fit in. After she met Sebastian, they’d become inseparable. Sebastian came from humble means, but he related to Mariana’s father’s drive to succeed. They soon began planning their future together.
In present day on the train, Mariana looks up to see a young man, roughly 20-years-old, eating an apple and staring at her. The man introduces himself as Frederick (“Fred”), a theoretical physics Ph.D. student, and tries to make conversation, though Mariana tries to cut things off with monosyllabic responses. When they arrive in Cambridge, Fred asks her for coffee or a drink. She declines, but he jauntily responds that they’ll meet again soon.
On campus, Mariana feels like she’s being followed, but dismisses her thoughts as paranoia. As she thinks about the recent murder, Mariana considers all the deaths sees seen in her life. First, her mother to cancer. Then, soon after her sister Elisa and Elisa’s husband in a car crash, which made Zoe an orphan. Mariana’s father later died of a heart attack, and then finally Sebastian.
Mariana thinks of how Sebastian had flown to Athens to ask for her father’s permission to marry her, but instead her father had accused him of being a gold digger and had threatened to disinherit her if she married her. She married Sebastian anyway, Sebastian made his own way in the shipping business and in the end Mariana’s father left her his fortune despite his threat.
While Sebastian had wanted children, Mariana wanted to wait to establish herself. When they finally started trying when Mariana was in her thirties, they had difficulty conceiving. Their doctor, Dr. Beck, had suggested a vacation to relieve the stress since anxiety wouldn’t help. So, they’d planned a two-week trip in August to Greece to visit Mariana’s family’s summer home on a cliff-top in Naxos.
In Naxos. the house was idyllic, and on the third day they decided to take the winding road to visit the Ancient Greek temple in the hills, dedicated to Demeter (goddess of the harvest) and Persephone (goddess of death). In Greek, Persephone is known as “Kore” which means “maiden”. At the temple, they have a picnic, and Mariana says a silent prayer to Demeter and the maiden. As she does, a cloud passes, shrouding Sebastian in darkness momentarily.
The next morning, Sebastian had gone for a run on the beach, and Mariana had wondered if he’d gone swimming afterwards, noting the wind and how large the waves must be. With no sign of him as time passed, she’d gone looking for him, finding only his shoes. Three days later, his body washed up on the coast.
In present day, as she arrives at St Christopher’s College, Mariana thinks about how she’s still stuck in that moment (“trapped on the beach in Naxos”) like Demeter had been when Hades kidnapped her daughter Persephone.
Chapters 12 – 14
Inside St. Christopher’s, Mariana sees a cluster of police officers near the dean’s office, indicating that Zoe was likely right about the dead girl being Tara.
Mariana is briefly distracted by the sight of Julian Ashcroft, a friend who Mariana had studied psychology with. Julian, in his late thirties now, had ended up specializing in forensic psychology and often appeared as a talking head on news shows or true-crime documentaries. As they greet each other, Julian tells Mariana that he’s there working with the police on the Tara Hampton case.
Mariana then heads over to find Zoe in her dorm room in Eros Court, and Zoe is delighted to see Mariana. However, when Mariana confirms what Julian told her about the dead girl definitely being Tara, Zoe breaks down in tears.
Zoe then blames herself for Tara’s death, saying that she should have told the police when she thought Tara was saying crazy things. Zoe then explains that Tara had said she was afraid that someone was going to kill her and that the threat came from a professor here named Edward Fosca.
Soon, Zoe is in the dean’s office repeating her story to Chief Inspector Sadhu Sangha. Sangha asks why Fosca would threaten Tara, and Zoe says that Tara and Fosca had been sleeping together. They’d had a fight, and when she threatened to tell the college about them, he’d threatened to kill her.
Sangha then goes to talk to Professor Fosca and take his statement. He reports back that at the time of Tara’s death at 10:00 PM, Fosca says he was finishing a class that runs from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM which was attended by six students, two of which have confirmed it with Sangha already.
Sangha then asks Zoe about Conrad Ellis, who Tara had been romantic with. Zoe clarifies that Conrad was not Tara’s boyfriend, instead they’d been casually hanging out. Sangha brings up that Conrad had two prior convictions (drug dealing and aggravated assault) and had been heard having heated arguments with Tara. Zoe insists that Conrad wouldn’t hurt Tara, but it’s clear Sangha has already settled on him as their prime suspect.
Chapters 15 – 17
As they leave the dean’s office, Mariana and Zoe run into Professor Fosca, who is handsome, American and appears to be in his early forties.
Fosca seems genuinely distressed, and he tells Zoe that he knows what she told the inspector. However, he clarifies that he would never sleep with a student. Instead, he says that Tara had been struggling academically, and he had been planning to have her repeat the year. Tara, fearful of how her father would react if he found out, had responded poorly, threatening to ruin Fosca’s career and get him fired, which is likely why she made the sexual allegations.
Mariana finds Fosca convincing and thinks about how Zoe had previously talked about how strict Tara’s father was. Wanting to investigate further, Mariana decides to talk to Conrad and asks Julian for help in getting access to him at the police station. Julian agrees to allow her to talk to him while he does his psych evaluation.
Soon, Julian and Mariana sits down with Conrad in the interview room, with Mariana identifies herself as a psychotherapist who is also Zoe’s aunt. Conrad says Zoe is not like Tara’s other friends (the “witches”) who dislike him. As he talks about his spotty past and upbringing, Mariana thinks to herself that things look bleak for him, but also that he’s innocent.
When Mariana brings up Professor Fosca, Conrad says that he sold Fosca drugs a few times and that he fancied Tara. Before Mariana can ask him to elaborate, Julian ends the interview, saying that he had enough for his report.
Afterwards, Julian seems to think that Conrad is guilty and was simply putting on an act for them, though Mariana disagrees. When Julian asks Mariana to have a drink with him tomorrow night and she declines, Julian laughs it off, but she notices something distinctly cold about him.
That evening at 6:00, Mariana and Zoe attend a special service for Tara being held in the college chapel. Mariana spots Tara’s parents, Lord and Lady Hampton. In the chapel, Mariana thinks about Sebastian and the prayer she made at temple in Naxos. She wonders if she offended the gods somehow, which is why he is gone. Lost in her sad thoughts, Mariana goes outside to get some air.
Chapters 18 – 20
After the service is over, Zoe wants to keep investigating by trying to find Tara’s phone or laptop in her room. Mariana advises Zoe to leave it to the police, but Zoe points out that the police have already made up their minds and aren’t going to investigate thoroughly. Mariana senses that Zoe isn’t telling her something, but Zoe denies it. When Mariana suggests that Zoe come back to London with her for a bit, Zoe says she doesn’t want to “run away” and that it’s not what Sebastian would have done.
Then, Mariana spots Fosca talking to a gaggle of beautiful women in white dresses. He sees her and comes over to introduce himself. Seeing Zoe’s reaction to him, Mariana realizes that Zoe is scared of Fosca for some reason.
Next, Mariana goes to see Professor Clarissa Miller, a woman in her late seventies who had been Mariana’s director of studies when she was a student and who had kept a maternal eye on Mariana.
Mariana asks Clarissa about Fosca, and Clarissa confirms that Fosca had mentioned that he was concerned that Tara was struggling academically. Clarissa also commiserates with Mariana about the death of Sebastian. She offers her a slim volume of poetry, IN MEMORIAM A.H.H. by Alfred Tennyson, which she says provided her with solace after her own husband’s death.
Before she leaves, Clarissa contacts the porter’s lodge to arrange a room for Mariana to stay in. Mr. Morris, head porter, meets her at the lodge, who turns out to be the grandson of the Mr. Morris that was the porter when she was an undergraduate. He drops her off at her room. Before he leaves, Morris mentions that Tara and her friends were very well known on campus, due to their wild parties. He recommends talking to the housekeeping staff (a “bedder”), who might know more of the gossip.
In bed, Mariana opens up the book Clarissa gave her. In the introduction, it talks about Tennyson’s life, including his abusive father and the mental illness in his family. At Cambridge, Tennyson fell in love with a man named Arthur Henry Hallam until his lover died suddenly from an aneurysm. For the next 17 years, Tennyson wrote only bits of poetry, all of which were about Hallam.
As she reads, Mariana thinks about Sebastian and what Zoe said about him not running away. Mariana thinks that he would want her to stay, fight, investigate and figure things out.
(This chapter is narrated by what is presumably the same unnamed person/”villain” from Part I, Chapter 7.)
The person narrates that he was too energized again to sleep and took a walk tonight. He comes across a fox, and looking into its eyes, felt calm, as if God were holding his hand and the good part of him was coming out. Then, the fox vanishes, the sun rises and he feels split in two once again.
He recalls having a similar feeling a long time ago of a yellow light and feeling split in two, but he doesn’t remember from where or when. He thinks he could remember it if he tried, but is unsure if he really wants to or if it’s something he tried hard to forget.
Chapters 2 – 5
When Mariana awakes, she tells Zoe that she’s planning on staying for a few days to see what she can do, which makes Zoe happy. After Zoe heads off to her classes, Mariana calls her patients to cancel her sessions for the week. They take it well, except for Henry who lashes out at her and demands to know why she’s not at home. Mariana realizes he must be spying on her again. He then claims that he’s watching her even now, though Mariana tells herself he’s just trying to scare her.
As Mariana thinks about her next steps, she considers that psychology of killers. Mariana believes that in order for someone to know empathy, they must be shown it from others. It’s likely that the killer was someone who suffered as a child and was shown no empathy or kindness in his childhood. She suspects that he buried his true self under a polished sheen of someone charming and polite, but Tara provoked him somehow causing “the terrified child inside him” to lash out.
Mariana is interrupted by Fred, the man from the train. When Mariana mentions her niece, Fred knows who she’s talking about and why Mariana is here, which Mariana doesn’t recall telling him about. Given that everyone is talking about it, Fred says he has some theories about Tara’s death, and Mariana finally agrees to have a drink with him that night.
Next, Mariana approaches the bedders, asking for Tara Hampton’s bedder. The woman, Elsie, identifies herself. Elsie agrees to talk to Mariana after being offered some cake, and Elsie leads her to the Copper Kettle restaurant. There, Elsie mentions that she’s also Zoe’s bedder and that Zoe has been rude to her on occasion, and Mariana promises to have a word with Zoe about it.
On the topic of Tara, Elsie says that she saw Tara leave her room looking upset at 7:45 PM the night she died. Elsie also knows about Tara’s friends, who she agrees are terrible. She says they bullied Tara, and that Tara hated them. Elsie thinks they were jealous of Tara because of how beautiful she was. Elsie also intimates that there’s something Zoe knows about this, but she doesn’t elaborate.
Finally, Mariana asks Elsie to see Tara’s room. Elsie shrugs, saying the police have already gone over it, and agrees to walk her over there.
Chapters 6 – 7
Tara’s room is messy, and Elsie confirms it was always like this. Elsie also talks about how she’d brush Tara’s hair sometimes and how a stuffed rabbit in the room was a gift from her. When Elsie leaves her alone in the room, Mariana continues checking over the room meticulously, but doesn’t find anything noteworthy. Finally, before she leaves, she sees a postcard of a painting by Titian, Tarquin and Lucretia, with four lines of Ancient Greek handwritten on the back.
Mariana brings the postcard to Clarissa to ask her to translate. Clarissa looks at it and says she thinks it’s a quote from Euripides’ The Children of Heracles. Roughly, the lines say that “the oracles agree: in order to defeat the enemy and save the city … a maiden must be sacrificed – a maiden of noble birth—” to Demeter and Persephone.
Mariana thinks of her own superstitious thoughts about Demeter and Persephone and their connection to Sebastian’s death, but she doesn’t say anything to Clarissa about it. As Mariana wonders why Tara would have this, Clarissa says that Tara was taking Greek tragedy that term with Professor Fosca, so she probably read it in one of the plays.
When Mariana seems curious about Fosca, Clarissa tells her to ask Zoe, since he’s her director of studies.
Chapters 8 – 10
At lunch, Mariana takes Zoe out. When she brings up Elsie, Zoe says that Tara hated Elsie (contradicting what Elsie had said about them being close) and that she was rude to Elsie because Elsie creeped her out. Zoe says that Tara banned Elsie from the room because Elsie kept walking in without knocking.
Mariana also brings up Fosca again, and she asks Zoe directly if she had a crush on him at some point. Zoe forcefully denies it. After lunch, Zoe explains that she thinks Fosca “dazzles” her, which she doesn’t like because it seems like he’s acting, pretending to be someone he’s really not.
Zoe says that everyone else thinks he’s amazing, especially the group of Tara’s female “friends” that hang around him and act like his fan club. Zoe explains that they’re in his “private study group” for his favorite students and that they’re a secret society that he calls the “Maidens”. Tara was one of them.
This sparks Mariana’s interest, so they decide to catch Fosca’s next lecture since all the Maidens will be there. At the lecture hall, Fosca opens by talking a little about Tara. Then, he jumps into a lecture that involves a discussion of Demeter and Persephone.
Fosca shows a projector image of a man being initiated into the secret cult of Eleusis, describing it as a secret rite “that gives you exactly that liminal experience of being between life and death”. They take place at Eleusis, which is the entry point to the underworld, and it was Persephone’s journey from life to death and back again that gave birth to the cult.
Though the exact nature of those rites have remained secret, it’s known that they were open to everyone. You didn’t have to be Greek, but you had to understand Greek. Before the rite, they drank a barley-based drink called kykeon which a black fungus (ergot) grows on that has hallucinogenic properties (modern day LSD is made from it). Then, they’d meet at midnight to by the Oracle of the Dead to be led by priests into the caves within and into a vast chamber called the Telesterion.
What would happen there is unknown, but in the morning they’d emerge having “undergone an experience of death and rebirth”, giving them a new understanding of what it means to be alive. He concludes by saying that the message of the Greek Tragedies are about what it means to be human and alive.
Chapters 11 – 12
After the lecture, Zoe points out the Maidens, six women that were gathered together. Zoe also says that they are all intelligent, privileged and well-connected — the daughter of famous actress, an Indian princess, the daughter of a Russian oligarch, etc.
Mariana comes up to Fosca as he speaks with them. She asks the Maidens why they wore white to Tara’s service. Diya, the Indian princess, speaks up, saying it was Tara’s favorite color and that in India they wear white to burials. Mariana then asks to speak to a few of them, under the guise of her job as a psychotherapist who is assessing how the students are doing. Two girls, Serena and Veronica Drake, agree to speak with her.
Along with Zoe, they sit down at a college bar. Veronica talks about wanting to be an actress after graduation and the twentieth birthday party she is planning for next week. Meanwhile Serena was from Singapore, but was brought up in English boarding schools.
Mariana asks about the night of the murder, and they say they were with Fosca all evening. Tara was supposed to be there, but didn’t show up. Mariana then asks if Fosca was there all night. Veronica says “yes”, but Serena admits that he left for a few minutes to have a cigarette outside.
Then Serena gets a text and has to leave. Veronica teases her, saying it’s her secret boyfriend, but Serena says it’s just a friend. Veronica also leaves for play rehearsal. Afterwards, Mariana feels certain the girls were lying to her.
(This chapter is narrated by what is presumably the same unnamed person/”villain”.)
The person narrates about keeping a box of love letters that he’d written to girls, but never sent. He kept them in a cupboard that he was afraid to open for years, but finally looked at it today. The box also contains a brown leather journal he kept the summer he was 12 and his mother died.
As he reads, he starts to remember that summer and his past, though a part of him is reluctant to venture back there.
Chapters 14 – 15
That night, Mariana heads to the Eagle pub to meet Fred, as promised. When he arrives, Mariana tells him point blank that nothing is going to happen between them because he is too young for her. She also tells him about her recently deceased husband. Still, Fred insists that someday he’ll propose and someday she’ll say yes.
On the topic of Tara, Fred says he doesn’t think that Conrad is a murderer. He also volunteers to team up with Mariana so they can investigate, but Mariana declines. Instead, he gives Mariana his number in case she changes her mind.
As he leaves, Fred mentions that he went to Naxos last summer and how it’s a great place to swim. She looks shocked and tries to tell herself it’s just a coincidence.
As she leaves the bar, Mariana is certain she is being followed by a man dressed in dark clothing. She tries to catch a glimpse of him, but he disappears. Instead, when she reaches the gate to St. Christopher’s she’s approached by Mr. Morris who asks her if anything is wrong and lets her into the building.
Back inside, she ends up in the Main Court where a portrait of Tennyson as a young man hangs. It strikes her how handsome he is, reminding her of Edward Fosca. As she looks at it, it occurs to her that Tennyson was looking at something in the near distance as this was painted, and she wonders what he was looking at.
In her room, she finds a black envelope on the floor. She opens it to find a handwritten note from Fosca, inviting her for a chat the next morning.
(This chapter is narrated by what is presumably the same unnamed person/”villain”.)
The unnamed narrator talks about his childhood on a farm where they raised lambs for slaughter. His father was a monster of a man, and his mother was an unhappy alcoholic who disliked farm life and the slaughtering of animals that took place there.
Chapters 17 – 18
The next morning, Mariana meets with Fosca at the Fellows’ Garden. He acknowledges that he knows she’s been looking into him, and he wants to know why. Mariana says that she’s intrigued by him and the Maidens. She wonders why they are all female. Fosca reassures her that at their meetups they merely discuss poetry, debate topics and enjoy wine, with nothing untoward going on.
Despite his polished behavior, Mariana can sense his anger towards her underneath it all. However, when he invites her for dinner the following night, she accepts. Then, he kisses her before she can react.
Immediately afterwards, Mariana calls Fred and meet up with him. She asks him why he mentioned Naxos, and Fred repeats something he said to her before about being a little psychic, which perhaps is why it popped into his head. She doesn’t entirely believe him, but takes him with her to investigate the Tara situation anyway.
They go to Tara’s room, and Mariana explains how Elsie saw her leave at 7:45, but the porter saw her at the front gate at 8:00. She wonders what Tara was doing for those 15 minutes. Outside Tara’s window, they find a white cigarette butt from an American cigarette brand, and Mariana notes that Fosca (an American) smokes.
When she mentions Fosca, Fred says that Fosca throws infamous parties at Cambridge for his students that are reportedly “pretty wild”. Mariana then tells her theory and investigation into Fosca, but if he was truly only gone that evening for a few minutes, then it’s impossible he did it since it takes 20 minutes by foot or longer by car to get to where Tara was murdered (Paradise nature reserve). Fred then suggests that perhaps Fosca took a punt (small boat propelled by a pole) which would’ve been much faster, quiet and likely unnoticed at night.
Fred offers to borrow a punt from the boathouse to test their theory, but they’re interrupted when Zoe calls to report that the police have found another body.
Chapters 1 – 4
Soon, Fred and Mariana make their way to the field on the edge of the Paradise reserve where the body was found. As Julian helps Mariana past the police, Mariana sees that the dead woman with her torso slashed open is Veronica.
Afterwards, Julian also tells Mariana that it turns out Conrad was in custody when Tara was murdered, so she was right about him being innocent.
Kuba, the pathologist, notes that it’s likely the same guy who did it, given that the M.O.s are similar. He also points out that both women had their throats slashed open first and then were stabbed post-mortem, so the killer could have left the scene without being covered in blood. As Kuba describes the precision used in the killing, Mariana comments that it doesn’t seem like someone losing control and murdering in a fit a rage. Instead, they both agree that there’s a ritualistic element to it.
Mariana also notes that Veronica is holding something in her hand, which Julian says is a pinecone, which Mariana thinks is odd because there are no pine trees around these parts. Kuba adds that Tara was also found on Tara’s body. Mariana then remembers a marble relief of a pinecone she saw on one of the slides during Fosca’s lecture.
When Inspector Sangha shows up, he looks unhappy to see Mariana there, though Julian says that Mariana is with him. Mariana tells him pointedly that the dead girl is Veronica, another one of Fosca’s “special students”, and Inspector Sangha threatens to have Mariana arrested if she shows up at another crime scene. Julian then pulls Mariana away, saying it’s best if she steer clear of Sangha, but he promises to keep her informed of the investigation.
Julian asks Mariana to grab a drink with him, but she declines. He looks annoyed as he spots Fred waving Mariana down.
Soon, news breaks of Veronica’s death, making international headlines because of her status as the daughter of a US Senator. Senator Drake descends upon Cambridge along with a hoard of journalists and cameramen. Scotland Yard becomes involved, news of a serial killer breaks and charges against Conrad Ellis are dropped.
(This chapter is narrated by what is presumably the same unnamed person/”villain”.)
The person describes how his mother valued education, encouraging him to become educated, unlike her, in order to have money and security. He also remembers how he was good at finding ways to avoid his father’s anger, unlike his mother who inevitably set him off. Still, his father would occasionally punish him for “his sins”.
The narrator remembers himself as a scared little boy, but he stops himself and “banishes all pity” from his heart, even towards himself.
Chapters 6 – 8
Knowing that Veronica was last seen leaving ADC (Amateur Dramatic Club) rehearsal, Mariana goes to the Theater to investigate. In the upcoming production of The Duchess of Malfi, Veronica had been slated to play the title role of the Duchess.
While the stage door is locked, Mariana is able to get in through the emergency exit near the upstairs theater bar. The auditorium initially seems empty, but she finds someone there who introduces himself as Nikos Kouris, the director of the play who also happens to be Greek.
Nikos is frustrated that the play has been cancelled. He says that the last time he saw Veronica was at dress rehearsal. He’d given her some critical notes about her performance, and she’d left around 6:00 PM feeling rather upset. Nikos thinks she was leaving to meet her professor, who he describes as a tall, bearded American man.
In the dressing room, Mariana find a postcard with a picture depicting a saint with long blond hair, like Veronica’s. However, it has a dagger sticking out of its neck and holds a tray with two eyeballs on it. On the other side, is a quotation handwritten in Greek.
When Mariana runs into Clarissa, she asks her again for her help. Clarissa says that the icon depicted on the postcard is St. Lucy, patron saint of the blind, a Christian martry whose eyes were gouged out before she was stabbed to death.
The quotation, she says, comes from Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides. The quote describes Iphigenia being led to her death (“‘Behold the maiden … with garlands in her hair, and holy water sprinkled upon her … walking to the sacrificial altar of the unspeakable goddess – which will flow with blood’ – ‘αἱματορρύτοις’ is the word in Greek – ‘as her beautiful neck is severed.’”)
Mariana asks Clarissa if she thinks Fosca could have sent the postcard. She tells Clarissa about his group of favorite students referred to as the “Maidens”. Clarissa suggest that the name may be a play off the Apostles, which was Tennyson’s secret literary society where he met Hallam. However, she seems disturbed by the idea that Fosca could have sent the postcards. Mariana wonders if the postcards are part of Fosca’s game, by “announcing his intentions” and she suspects the quotations may hold a special meaning for him.
Chapters 9 – 10
After lunch, Mariana and Zoe happen to see Serena at the college bar. Serena is cold towards Mariana and angrily asks her what she said to the police about Fosca because he had clearly been questioned again. Mariana is secretly glad to hear that Sangha is following up on her tip. Before leaving, Serena tells Mariana that she was in class with him the whole time the night Veronica was killed, and he never left even to have a cigarette break.
When Serena leaves, Zoe comments on how fixated Mariana seems to be on Fosca even though he has an alibi for both murders. Zoe then leaves for class, and Mariana neglects to tell her that she has dinner plans with Fosca for that night. Afterwards, Mariana thinks to herself that she should go back to London tomorrow for a few hours to see her supervisor, Ruth, and get some perspective.
Chapters 11 – 13
That night, Mariana heads over to Fosca’s office. She sees that the living room area overlooks the courtyard, with doors leading to other rooms within his area. Fosca appears up wearing a dinner jacket and soon Greg, their waiter shows up. Fosca explains that he asked the dining hall to serve them dinner here so they could have some privacy.
On his coffee table, Mariana spots a pinecone, and she asks him about the slide in his lecture. Fosca explains that each initiate into the cult was given a pinecone upon entry, symbolizing the seed or spirit inside them and the commitment to finding your soul. When Fosca offers her the pinecone, Mariana forcefully declines it.
Fosca then leads Mariana into the dining room, where the main entrée is lamb. As they make conversation, Fosca says that he grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere in New York. Mariana asks him about himself and his childhood, and Fosca admits that he did not have a happy childhood and he never really knew his mother. He describes his father as a violent man who brutalized his mother. Fosca also says he’s never been married.
Fosca then brings up the investigation, repeating what Serena had said about them being in a private tutorial together when Veronica was killed. He also acknowledges that Sangha had visited him and had mentioned that Mariana seemed to have something against him. He tells her that it’s absurd to think that he is somehow murdering his students.
Mariana then asks what type of person he thinks is killed these students. Fosca says he thinks it’s someone spiritual who believes the killing are a “sacrificial act”, a “ritual of rebirth and resurrection”. He also says that the person is a showman or performer, who wants to shock and entertain.
Afterwards, Fosca insists on coffee in the sitting room. Mariana considers fleeing, but then she sees a book of The Collected Works of Euripides. She opens it to see the quotation on Veronica’s postcard bookmarked and underlined. When he returns, Mariana is certain that Edward Fosca is the murderer.
(This chapter is narrated by what is presumably the same unnamed person/”villain”.)
The person narrates that his earliest memory is of Rex, a white sheepdog. His father didn’t like Rex, or perhaps his father hated Rex simply because his mother loved Rex.
When he (the narrator) is nearly 12, his mother suggested they needed a younger dog to replace Rex in sheepherding. In response, his father suggested shooting Rex so they didn’t have to care for two dogs. His mother had refused to let him, causing a fight until his mother finally managed to threaten his father with a knife to stop him. After his father walked out, he had told his mother that “I’ll kill him for you”.
Then, they heard a gunshot, and he went outside to see Rex dead outside. Instead of crying, he simply learned “how to hate”. As time passed, he would imagine and act out terrible things, including making himself bleed.
Chapters 2 – 5
After the dinner, Mariana calls Fred to meet at Gardenia, a Greek diner in Cambridge. She tells him about the postcard and the underlined quotation she found in Fosca’s book. She asks Fred what he thinks and if he thinks it’s unreasonable to suspect Fosca even though he has an alibi. Fred points out that “one of the girls who gave him an alibi is dead”. Fred also says that it’s possible he has an accomplice, though Mariana thinks he seems more like the lone-wolf type.
Before they leave, Fred playfully propose to Mariana, who unceremoniously says no. Then, they say goodbye and part ways. Mariana looks back, but Fred is gone. When Mariana gets back to her room, she gets a call from a unknown number, the caller says “I can see you, Mariana. I’m watching you” (which she thinks is Henry’s voice) and then hangs up.
The next morning, Mariana intends to heads straight for London as planned, but on her way out she spots Fosca talking to Morris. She sees Fosca give Morris what appears to be a bulky envelope. Curious, Mariana follows Morris as he walks away.
Mariana following him through the gate, past Emmanuel College and down the street. Then, he turns onto a lane and into a dead end. Then, she sees him climb over the wall to the other side. She hesitates for a moment, but then she follows him. When she drops down over the wall, she realizes that he’s at the abandoned cemetery on Mill Road. She looks around for Morris, but instead, she sees Serena walking toward a flat, marble crypt. Then, she sees Morris approach. He kisses Serena, and they proceed to have aggressive sex on the marble.
When they’re done, Mariana moves to leave, but accidentally makes a noise by stepping on a twig. Morris notices her, walks over and threatens Mariana to mind her own business.
Chapters 6 – 7
Afterwards, Mariana takes the fast train to London. She thinks about the scene at the cemetery and wonders if Morris was the “secret boyfriend” that Veronica had teased Serena about — which would be a relatively harmless secret, but Mariana thinks there’s probably more to it. She also wonders if she was really right about Fosca or if there was another unknown threat?
At King’s Cross, Mariana feels again that she’s being watched, and she feels a sense of relief when she arrives at Ruth’s house. Ruth was her training therapist as a student and became her supervisor when Mariana became qualified. Ruth often helps her to “unpack her feelings”, to separate out her own emotions from her patients’ emotions and to help her look at things impartially. Mariana had also turned to Ruth after Sebastian’s death, though she’d rejected Ruth’s offer to treat her.
Once she starts to talk about the murders, Mariana cries, and Ruth recognizes that it’s because she feels powerless to stop it. After hearing about the Maidens, Ruth suggests that Mariana speak to them as a group and have a group therapy session with them to see what comes up.
Ruth also tells Mariana to be careful with Fosca. She sees how he’s similar to Mariana’s father — charismatic, narcissistic and “powerful within their community” — and she’s worried Mariana may feel an urge to win him over. Mariana disagrees with Ruth’s assessment, but Ruth seems to think that Mariana’s feelings about her relationship with her father — how he never gave her the love she needed, how he let her down — are playing into the situation.
Before Mariana leaves, Ruth suggests that she reach out to Theo Faber (note: he’s the main character from The Silent Patient), a psychotherapist she trained with in London.
Chapters 8 – 10
That night, Mariana meets with Theo at the Oxford Arms. Theo also trained under Ruth, and Ruth has a soft spot for him. Theo, roughly 40-years-old and kind of awkward, has heard about the murders already. Mariana asks him for his take on things.
Theo recommends starting with the “why”, trying to suss out a motive in order to get at who the killer is. He also suggests understanding who the audience is for the display of the bodies and that the killer is trying to “dazzle” them with horror to distract from something else.
Before Theo leaves, Mariana asks him how he’s doing. He says he’s unhappy where he’s working. Mariana then points out a listing for a position at The Grove for a forensic psychotherapist. Theo looks interested and recognizes it as the place that Alicia Berenson, the painter who killed her husband but won’t talk, was sent. Theo says that perhaps he’ll apply for it.
Heading back to Cambridge, Mariana tries to puzzle through why Ruth brought up Mariana’s father. Mariana remembers idolizing her father as a child. For a long time, she only saw him as brilliant and hardworking. It was Ruth who made her see that her father was cruel, critical and cold, and his love was conditional. Ruth viewed Mariana’s “love” for him as a “pathological attachment to a narcissistic man”, and she suggested that Mariana’s love for him meant she didn’t love herself.
when she get back to campus, she spots Morris. Mariana considers telling Sangha that she thinks Morris and Fosca are connected, but she knows it would only prompt his ridicule. Instead, she needed proof first, and she didn’t tip Morris off that Mariana knew about their connection before then. When she finds herself wanting to call Fred, she stop herself, not wanting to imagine that she was developing feelings for him.
Mariana reaches her room to see the door ajar. The room had clearly been rifled through, though it appeared nothing was stolen. She immediately calls Morris to contact the police. The officers arrive and offer to check for prints, but then she sees a cross carved into her desk. Thinking that it must be Henry, she declines, though “for the first time, she felt afraid of him”.
(This chapter is narrated by what is presumably the same unnamed person/”villain”.)
On the day after his 12th birthday, his mother tells him that she’s leaving after a particularly bad beating at the hands of his father. The narrator initially felt joy, but as she explains her plan, the narrator realized that he wouldn’t be coming with her.
He promised not to tell, but inside he raged, thinking about her leaving him there. He then realized how she’d been willing to stand up for Rex, but never for him. He thought about how she deserved to be punished.
As an adult, he would have had the words to sit her down and explain his grievances, and he fantasizes about her begging for his forgiveness. But at that age he didn’t have the means to express himself. Instead, that night, he dreams of brutally murdering his mother and feels disappointed when he sees her in the morning, uninjured.
Chapters 12 – 14
At breakfast the next morning with Zoe and Clarissa, Mariana tells them about Ruth’s suggestion to do group therapy with the Maidens. Zoe thinks it’s unlikely they’ll agree to it unless Fosca tell them to. So, she spots him, she asks for his cooperation in organizing it. Fosca agrees to it only if he can attend, so she consents to his presence there.
At 5:00 PM, Mariana meets the five Maidens — Carla, Natasha, Diya, Lillian and Serena — in the OCR (Old Combination Room) conference room. Fosca is late, so they start without him. The girls are clearly unhappy to be there are are derisive when they see Mariana has left out two extra chairs to represent their two missing members. When Mariana asks whether they see Fosca as a father figure, Natasha ignores her question and simply says that they all know that Mariana just wants them to say something bad about Professor Fosca.
When Mariana brings up how Fosca let two of them die, Lillian objects, saying that it’s not his fault they’re dead. Instead, they all agree that Tara and Veronica “were stupid” and not careful, which is why they are dead. Mariana is shocked by the lack of sadness or grief in the girls.
When Fosca arrives, Mariana brings up the play Iphigenia in Aulis, where Iphigenia is sacrificed by her father Agamemnon to appease the god Artemis (in order to save Greece). Mariana asks the group what they think about her death and whether she should have felt compelled to sacrifice herself for her father. Mariana suggests that perhaps Agamemnon is not a hero, but a madman and that Iphigenia mistook abuse for love.
When Mariana brings up Veronica and Tara, Fosca jumps straight to the point — that clearly Mariana is comparing him to Agamemnon (as the madman/father figure) and that he’s somehow mistreating the Maidens (comparing them to Iphigenia/the daugher being sacrificed).
Then, seeing the chairs left out for Tara and Veronica, he mocks Mariana’s relationship with Zoe, ridiculing her for not knowing that one chair is missing — because Zoe is also one of the Maidens.
Chapters 15 – 18
Afterwards, Mariana immediately goes to look for Zoe, but then stops, not wanting to confront Zoe while she’s worked up. She’s stopped by Fred who invites her back to his room for a drink. Not thinking too hard about it, Mariana agrees and follows him to his room.
At Fred’s place, she sees a bunch of papers, which he says is research for a book he’s working on. He says it’s about his mother who died when he was a boy. Mariana says that her mother died as well. He says her death sparked his interested in theoretical mathematics and parallel universes, since it means there may be one where she lived. He says that time doesn’t really exist, so really she’s right there.
As they talk, Fred repeats his premonition that someday she’ll agree to marry him, but Mariana laughs. Then he kisses her. When Mariana tells him she has to leave, Fred looks pained and insists on walking her out. Outside, Mariana feels annoyed with Fred’s obviously hurt feelings. When he hands her a letter to read, Mariana refuses it.
Back at St. Christopher’s, she passes by the portait of Tennyson again and stop to look at it when she hears footsteps. Then, Henry emerges, looking manic and with a bloody nose. He’s also holding a knife. He accuses Mariana of abandoning him and “sacrificing” him. As she pleads with him to put down the knife, he threatens to kill himself. However, Morris spots him and overpowers him. Morris then calls the police, who arrest Henry. At Mariana’s insistence, he’s taken to a psychiatric unit of the hospital.
When Mariana finally gets to her room, she’s unable to sleep for hours, turning over all aspects of the murders in her mind. That night, she has a nightmare about that Sebastian had been wandering alone, and when she found him, he didn’t recognize her, saying that she had changed.
Chapters 19 – 20
Mariana wakes up to banging on her door just past 11:00 the next morning, and she finds Elsie there with news. Elsie reports that Serena’s body was found by the river this morning.
Elsie then hands Mariana a postcard from under her door — with an image of a vase depicting Iphigenia being sacrificed on one side, and lines of Ancient Greek handwritten on the other. Scared, Mariana decides it’s time to tell Inspector Sangha about the postcards, even if he thinks she’s crazy.
As the leaves, she sees Fosca outside and is filled with anger. She charges up to him and demands to know the meaning of the postcard. He tells her it says: “The gods have willed your death – and soon, from your throat, streams of blood shall gush forth at the sword.” As soon as he finishes talking, Mariana hits him and then punches him again, until a nearby office restrains her.
Inspector Sangha shows up and soon, Mariana is in the dean’s office with Sangha, Julain, the dean and Fosca. Sitting there, Mariana tries to present her case as calmly as possible, about why she thinks Fosca is responsible for the murders.
She talks about the “unhealthy group behavior” of the Maidens and how Fosca exerts too much control over them. She also talks about how Veronica and Serena, who have him his alibi, both ended up dead. She also presents the postcards, which she views as his announcement of his “intention to kill”.
Fosca denies responsibility for all of it, including the postcards and notes that it would be “stupid” of him to send postcards with texts that he teaches if he wanted to murder people. When the inspector says that Morris saw Fosca at the exact time of Serena’s death, Mariana says that Morris is lying. She describes what she saw between Fosca and Morris and also between Morris and Serena, saying she thinks Fosca is blackmailing Morris.
However, with this new information, Sangha seems to think Morris seems like a more likely suspect (as opposed to suspecting Fosca), especially since as a porter he could move around unnoticed. Julian and Sangha plan to bring in Morris for questioning.
Afterwards, Julian tells Mariana that she seems a little paranoid and should get help. When she argues with him, Sangha gets angry and tells Mariana to leave the college by tomorrow or else she’ll be arrested.
Chapters 1 – 2
Soon, Morris is arrested by the police. Mariana meets with Zoe and Clarissa and fills them in on the events. Mariana also says she has no intention of leaving, since she wants to stay and see it through. Mariana also confronts Zoe about knowing that she’s one of the Maidens. Zoe says she only went to once to one of their gatherings. Mariana demands to know what Zoe knows.
Finally, Zoe tells her story: Professor Fosca claimed to know the secret of the Eleusian rites (the thing that would take you “on a journey from life to death and back again”). When it was Zoe’s turn to be initiated into the Maidens, she was to go to the boathouse where a punt would take her to meet him at the “folly” (a place by the river near Paradise reserve).
Upon arrival, Veronica and Serena were there wearing masks, meant to represent Persephone and Demeter. Zoe was given the kykeon to drink, which was barley water spiked with GHB (bought from Conrad). Then, he took a knife out and slid it into the wall to represent a ritual sacrifice.
From there, there was naked dancing and swimming in the river. At some point, Fosca started kissing, touching and saying he loved her, but Zoe ran away and never spoke to the girls about it again. She didn’t tell anyone other than Tara.
Chapters 3 – 4
After Zoe finishes explaining, she admits that she received a postcard that afternoon as well. On one side is an image of Iphigenia and the other an inscription. Upon seeing it, Mariana declares that it changes things and that they should leave for London. Clarissa agrees with Mariana, saying they should go to the police, but Zoe refuses.
Zoe insists they need evidence first, and she suggests they at least check the folly for the ritual knife (the one Fosca slid in the rock during the initiation) as potential evidence before they leave. Finally, Mariana agrees to Zoe’s plan, telling Zoe to go pack first. (Privately, she tells Clarissa she has no intention of going to the folly, instead she just needed Zoe to go pack so they can leave.)
Before Mariana leaves, Clarissa suggests that Mariana go straight to the police now, but Mariana is certain Sangha won’t listen to her. Instead, she tells Clarissa to tell the authorities all of this in case something happens to them.
Soon after, Mariana goes to fetch Zoe, but she’s not there. Instead, she gets a call from Fred. He says he had a premonition and that she’s in serious danger, but Mariana has had enough of him and hangs up.
Mariana waits around in Zoe’s room, looking around. As she does, she (superstitiously) makes a prayer to the goddesses to apologizing if she has offended them, but in the process she knocks over one of Zoe’s childhood stuffed animals, Zebra. Then, she sees that Zebra has papers stitched into its tummy.
Mariana picks up the papers and begins to read.
(This chapter is narrated by what is presumably the same unnamed person/”villain”.)
One day, his mother leaves, and he never hears from her again. He goes and writes in his journal for hours, then he puts it in a box to hide it away. Today, he has taken out the journal to read again, but two pages are missing, which he destroyed because they are “dangerous”.
Then, he writes “I love you, Zoe” (indicating that this is a letter addressed to Zoe), and he explains that he’s writing this so she can understand him. He had a “premonition” that she was his destiny and he believes he can make her love him and that they’ll be together someday. He closes by warning her that “it involves blood — and sacrifice” and signs it “yours, forever”.
Chapters 6 – x
After reading it, it’s clear to Mariana that Fosca had written this letter to Zoe, but she’s not sure what to make of it. Then, Zoe comes back in, and Mariana is not sure what to say or do. Instead, Mariana agrees to go to the folly with Zoe. At the boathouse, she sees Fred following them.
Zoe comments that Mariana is being oddly quiet, and they soon arrive at the folly, consisting of four columns and a stone roof. At the entrance is a emblem of a swan in a storm. Inside, Zoe looks for the place where Fosca had slid the knife. She smiles at she pulls it out, and Mariana sees that the tip is stained — either from rust or blood.
Then, Zoe points the knife at Mariana, ordering her to walk through the trees. When Mariana says that she found Fosca’s letter to her, Zoe interrupts. She clarifies that she was in love with him, but it was Sebastian, not Fosca, who wrote the letter.
Chapters 1 – 3
Zoe then tells Mariana that she and Sebastian became lovers when she was 15 and they took her to Greece. Zoe says that he only ever married Mariana for her money. Sebastian murdered Mariana’s father after he caught them fooling around in the olive grove.
After Sebastian died in that accident, Zoe decided to carry out Sebastian’s plan to murder Mariana (in order to get his hands on her fortune). Zoe had previously told Sebastian about the Maidens at school and it gave him the idea for the plan.
It involved framing Fosca for a series of murders, beginning with Tara’s. Zoe planted the postcards and underlined the passages in his books. He also planted some hairs from Tara’s head behind Fosca’s wardrobe, which the police haven’t found yet (“but they will”). Zoe then drew Mariana into the investigation and got her to try to convince the police it was Fosca.
Zoe then tells Mariana that tomorrow they’ll find Mariana’s body, and Zoe will say Mariana went to investigate here alone. At that point, Zoe plans to tell them her story about Fosca and the initiation ceremony. Then, they’ll investigate and find the evidence that she planted and assumed he killed Mariana and the rest of them.
As Zoe moves to strike Mariana with the knife, Mariana finds the strength the grab Zoe’s arm, resulting in a tussle. As the knife flies off, Zoe goes to look for it. Fred then shows up, looking concerned for Mariana. Before she can warn him, Zoe stabs Fred in the back. Before Zoe can stab him again, Mariana hits Zoe with a rock, causing Zoe to fall over and impale herself with the knife.
Mariana then calls the police.
Soon, Zoe is taken away by armed police officers in an ambulance and charged with attempted murder for the attack on Fred. Later, Sangha tells Mariana that Fosca has been fired. It turned out he was sleeping with all the Maidens, and that Morris was blackmailing him for it.
With it all over, Mariana feels terrible, but also that a fog has lifted. She feels more alive.
When she finally returns home, Mariana tries to make sense of what happened. Zoe ended up surviving the knife wound, but attempted suicide multiple times and had a psychotic breakdown. Deemed unfit to stand trial, she’s now a patient at the Grove under the care of Theo, who ended up applying for the job there. Theo has encouraged Mariana to speak to Zoe, but Mariana has not returned his calls.
As for Fred, he also survived, and Mariana has visited him a few times in the hospital.
One day, Mariana gets a letter from Theo, saying that talking to Zoe might give Mariana some closure. He also mentions that Zoe, too, is a victim.
When Mariana reads that, she feels angry at first, but then she finds that she wants to understand. In February, Mariana makes her way to the Grove. Theo talks to her, saying that Zoe is unwell, but that she was acting as a proxy for Sebastian. Theo then leaves to talk to a red-haired woman in his office (presumably, Alicia Berenson).
The book ends with Mariana walking in to talk to Zoe.