The grueling, emotionally torturous world of French preparatory schools provides the framework for this mystery. The deliberately rigorous courses are designed to prepare students to take the brutal examinations for entry into the elite Grand Ecoles, where a select few will gain the skills and education needed to insure a bright, prosperous future for themselves. The story centers on Delphine, a girl from the lower classes, and the upper class Claude. Both young women aspire to attend the Ecole Normale Superieure on the Rue d'Ulm. Delphine lives in humble public housing with her dull mother and two young brothers while Claude, who considers herself a Communist, lives in luxury with her own servant; she is sexually involved with fellow- student, Axel, who thinks himself a fascist.