Killing Mr. Griffin

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Killing Mr. Griffin
Killing Mr Griffin cover.jpg
Author Lois Duncan
Country United States
Language English
Genre Suspense
Publisher Little Brown
Publication date
April 1978
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 243 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-316-19549-9 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 3540946
LC Class PZ7.D9117 Ki

Killing Mr. Griffin is a 1978 novel for young adults by Lois Duncan about a group of teenage students at a New Mexico high school who plan to kidnap their strict English teacher, Mr. Griffin.[1] The book was adapted into a television film that aired on NBC on April 7, 1997,[2] sharing the same title and starring Jay Thomas, Mario Lopez, Amy Jo Johnson, Michelle Williams, and Scott Bairstow.[3] Another film with a similar theme and title, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, was released in 1999 and was written and directed by Kevin Williamson (who had previously adapted Duncan's 1973 book I Know What You Did Last Summer).[4]


Brian Griffin is a strict high school English/literature teacher at Del Norte High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico who never accepts late homework and is demanding of his students. After he gives out F's to a group of students who turn in papers late, the students—the "popular" crowd—decide to get revenge by kidnapping him.

The group of friends includes Mark Kinney, the mastermind of the "prank", David Ruggles, president of the high school's senior class, Jeff Garrett, a basketball player, Betsy Cline, the head cheerleader, and Susan McConnell, a little nerdy girl who isn't usually part of the popular crowd. Mr. Griffin recognized a paper Mark plagiarized, with help from his college-age girlfriend, as being from the college at which Mr. Griffin had worked as an assistant professor. Jeff obeys Mark, despite his parents' disapproval of Mark, and does things for the group like driving them around and often paying for their meals. Betsy is a spoiled and manipulative, but popular, girl, who has a crush on Mark. David is working toward a state university scholarship, which is grade-based; the previous English teacher, Dolly Luna, gave him A's, but Mr. Griffin gives him C's. David faces further pressures, as he needs ultimately to help support his family, since his mother is in a dead-end secretarial job, his nagging and lazy grandmother lives with them, and the father is out of the picture.

The students take Mr. Griffin to a spot in the mountains so remote, that Mark is the only one who has been there for outings with his former girlfriend, Lana Turnbolt. Betsy arrives in the parking lot after the boys have left with Mr. Griffin, thanks to a speeding ticket. Susan was supposed to ride with Betsy, but doesn't want any part in the scheme and Betsy leaves without her. The group taunts Mr. Griffin, telling him to beg for his life or they would kill him. They take Mr. Griffin's medicine and see that on the bottle it says "nitroglycerin". Jeff smashes the medicine with a rock to see if it will explode and then leaves the bottle on the ground. Mark tells Mr. Griffin to beg or they will abandon him there overnight; Mr. Griffin refuses, so the students leave.

Susan defies Mark and begs David to go check on Mr. Griffin. The two find him dead, as a result of heart failure from not taking his medication, and they hurry to find the other students. Mark decides to cover up the death instead of going to the police. Mr. Griffin's wife goes to the police the next day, because her husband has not returned home. A police officer pulls Susan from class to question her, because she was the last person to see Mr. Griffin alive to their knowledge. Mark meets her in the hallway before she reaches the office and instructs Susan on what to tell the police: Mr. Griffin spent the whole conference looking at his watch and left with a pretty woman.

Everyone except for Susan heads to the mountains and they bury Mr. Griffin. Jeff repaints the car gray, telling his parents that he's fixing a friend's car. He and Betsy drive it to the airport and wipe the fingerprints from the steering wheel. Susan does not help, because the group is afraid she might have a nervous breakdown. Betsy, who has a crush on Mark, resents Betsy's role in disposing of the evidence, and is jealous that Mark is spending so much time with a plain girl like Susan.

Kathy Griffin visits Susan's home, upset because she believes that Susan lied in her report to the police, as Mr. Griffin couldn't have been wearing his watch that day, because it was at home, broken. She asks Susan to contact her if Susan remembers anything more. Days later, Mark's ex-girlfriend, Lana, has a picnic with her fiancee at the secret place in the mountains. The couple discovers Mr. Griffin’s medicine bottle. Informing the police, they also mention there was a patch of dirt that looked like it had been recently uprooted. The police investigate, and find Mr. Griffin's body buried in the hole. Brian Griffin's murder is all over the news.

David’s grandmother finds Mr. Griffin's ring that David stole, but believes it belongs to David's father, and that David has been secretly meeting with his father. David's mother does not take his grandmother seriously, but the conspirators know they need to hide or destroy the ring since it is evidence of their crime. However, the grandmother will not return the ring to David until she gets to meet with David's father. David's grandmother is killed, a neighbor referring to the killer suspect as a "boy in a brown sweater." When David learns that she is dead, he is overcome with grief and takes no further part in the plot. Susan makes the connection, knowing that Mark has a brown sweater he wears all the time, and that Mark would stop at nothing to get what he needed - in this case, the ring.

Susan threatens to tell the police all that the group has done. Mark orders Jeff and Betsy to bind Susan and they leave. Mark tells Susan what really happened to his father - that he set their house on fire and killed his father. Mark sets her curtains on fire and Susan realizes he intends to do the same to her. Miraculously, Susan is saved by Kathy Griffin, who recognizes her husband's Chevy in Susan's driveway when she sees Susan's house on fire. Though the car had been repainted, the gray color can't be made out in the dark, and Mrs. Griffin recognizes the patched upholstery.

The conspiracy unravels with all of those involved facing varying criminal charges, except for Susan who is granted amnesty in exchange for her testimony at Mark's three murder trials. The novel ends with Susan's mother telling her that Mark will be blamed for manipulating her along with the other students, because he has been diagnosed as a psychopath.


Brian Griffin: The English teacher of Del Norte High School and graduate/assistant professor of Stanford University; he is brutally demanding, and refuses to give his students second chances regarding their work. His strict nature is caused largely by a heart condition, the medication for which has the side effect of making him short-tempered and sharp-tongued. Ultimately, Del Norte's in-crowd is driven to kidnap him and to deny him his medication, which ultimately kills him. He is married to Kathy Griffin, who is expecting their first child.

Susan "Sue" McConnell: The only daughter of her family. She is considered a perfect student but is plain-looking and lacks confidence. Her brothers, all of whom have inherited their parents' good looks, tease her about her nondescript appearance and her presumed fate as an "old maid." She has a deep crush on David.

Mark Kinney: A mentally unstable teen from a broken family. He set his father on fire and watched him burn in the past. His mother told him to his face that she never wanted to see him. He was "adopted" by Jeff's family. His charming personality often lets him manipulate others. He has many signs of a psychopath.

Jeff Garrett: Del Norte High's star basketball player. He is dense and obedient, and is easily manipulated by Mark, whom he worships. He is dating Betsy, unaware she's using him to get close to Mark, who is not even slightly interested in her.

Betsy Cline: The popular head cheerleader, Jeff's girlfriend, and the only child of the county commissioner, Harold Cline and his wife Liz. Although she is not conventionally pretty, she is considered wholesome and sweet, and is able to use her confidence and superficial charm to manipulate people around her. At heart, however, she is conniving and selfish. She is in love with Mark, yet he is completely uninterested in her.

David Ruggles: Senior president. Initially, David uses Susan's crush on him to cajole her into helping with the kidnap plot, however he soon grows to return her affection. Inferred to be Mr. Griffin's son, but is not stated in the book.

Irma Ruggles: David's selfish, lazy grandmother. Ever since getting evicted from her apartment for being delinquent on the rent, Irma has lived with her daughter-in-law and grandson; she runs up their bills, spends their money without permission, and makes bad impressions on their guests. She causes trouble for Mr. Griffin's killers by finding his ring in David's room; Irma refuses to surrender it until she meets David's father, whom she's convinced gave the ring to David. She is then killed by Mark in order to get the ring.

Kathy Griffin: Griffin's pregnant wife. Despite his harsh treatment of his students, Griffin is a loving and attentive husband to her. Although she and Griffin have little in common, they are happily married.

Dolly Luna: An English teacher at Del Norte High, who, unlike Griffin, is popular with the students because of her friendly and lenient nature. In contrast to Griffin, Dolly Luna gives her students second chances and praises them for their efforts. Although she is well-liked by the class, Griffin openly holds her in disdain, describing her to his wife as "a thirty-year-old teenager."

Television film[edit]

The book was adapted into a television film of the same title in 1997. It starred Scott Bairstow, Amy Jo Johnson, and Jay Thomas as Mr. Griffin and was directed by Jack Bender.


  1. ^ "Killing Mr. Griffin". Book resources for teachers. Scholastic Inc. Retrieved 11 June 2012. 
  2. ^ TV Guide April 5 - 11, 1997. 
  3. ^ "Killing Mr. Griffin (1997)". Internet Movie Data Base., Inc. Retrieved 11 June 2012. 
  4. ^ "Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999)". Internet Movie Data Base., Inc. Retrieved 11 June 2012. 

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