Any parent will tell you that dropping children off at school requires endless faith in teachers and administrators—and their ability to handle situations that could easily spiral out of their control. Adding to this anxiety is the specter of school shootings, which are now common and random enough to create a whole host of troubling new questions: How much security is too much? Too little? Are the teachers and children ready to react? And if the shooter is connected to the school in some way, how are we supposed to detect the warning signs?

These are a few of the big questions author Laurie R. King attempts to tackle in her “novel of suspense,” Lockdown. In this standalone book, King sets aside her popular Mary Russell series to examine a present-day fictional middle school, its troubled student body, secretive staff, and hard-working principal who’s desperately trying to improve upon the institution’s checkered past. The novel opens with the revelation of an “incident” which causes the titular lockdown, but King then quickly throws her vehicle into reverse to explore the histories and secrets of its varied characters.

King is a strong, purposeful writer with a keen eye for detail, and her characters bounce off each other in unexpected and often unfortunate ways. The result is a Jenga-style puzzle of histories and intentions building atop each other, until the sheer weight leads to its unavoidable collapse.

In the acknowledgements, King reveals that Lockdown was 20 years in the making, and was originally “a series of short stories that, when they were first published, had no apparent connection”—though she long suspected they were linked. And while King does an admirable job of connecting these pieces, Lockdown sometimes feels forced, as if she was intent on including a story without regard for driving the narrative forward. While the final third of the book definitely barrels ahead to its exciting conclusion, the reader often has to endure the scenic route getting there. That said, Lockdown does earn its page-turner status, but those looking for an exciting novel that also examines the causes of school shootings and how they can be stopped may be disappointed.

That may be too much weight to place on an escapist summertime beach read—but then, it was King who broached the subject. recommended

Laurie R. King will be in Seattle on Friday, June 16:

Noon: Seattle Mystery Bookshop (drop-in signing)

4 p.m.: University Book Store (drop-in signing)

6:30 p.m.: Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park (reading & signing)