Now a successful principal of a city school in Wellington, New Zealand, Karla Spicer is called in to help as a Change Principal at Tuckett Area School in a remote South Island district. This small school takes pupils from Year I to 13 but has a falling roll in the high school section, an apathetic principal, Don Trow and a divided board of trustees. The Ministry of Education is considering closing the high school section and downgrading the school to take just primary pupils (Year 1 – 8) pupils.
Karla and her husband Ryan move south and begin to cure the school’s problems. Ryan is a computer programmer who finds that the school is heavily in debt because Don Trow is faking online accounts and is betting on an Russian casino. He has run up huge debts and they want their money. By running down the PTA account he has paid off most of these debts but had not taken into account huge interest rates, nor the fact that the casino is run by an international terrorist organisation named Haqq Nar meaning True Fire in English. They want more than their money and are about to make an example of Trow.
When Karla tells Trow she has knowledge of his illegal activities, he reluctantly agrees to cooperate in her efforts to help the school. Programmes are changed, slack teachers made to improve and the school gradually the pupils become one co-operative unit rather than two mini-schools on one site. Ryan also takes on a part time position as school bus driver with his tiny bus travelling through the remote hinterland north of the school. Karla is also asked by the Ministry of Education to help at two other small schools in the area with teacher or board of trustees problems.
Karla is curious when two businessmen arrive in town by helicopter and head for Trow’s office. She intervenes just as Trow is about to be shot but is herself wounded. The would-be assassins escape but do not abandon their bid to make an example of Tuckett Area School.
Ryan is near the end of his school bus route when his bus is hijacked. Five children and himself are flown by helicopter to a remote mountain hut but the kidnappers have no intention of letting the children and himself survive. Ryan and the children are just pawns in a sinister plot to get a Haqq Nar cell established in New Zealand.
How do Ryan and the students survive? Can Karla cope when she realises that not only the police but the secret service and military are involved in rescue attempts? Have all her efforts in helping Tuckett Area School been in vain because of this crisis?