Stepping into her father’s imposing footsteps, Anna Travis joins a murder squad as the newest member of an over-worked team. The squad bustles with activity; a serial killer has just claimed his seventh victim, and everyone is working at fever pitch to stop any more killings.
Anna’s immediate boss is DCI Langton, who recognizes in the young woman some familiar traits. Known as “Jack the Knife,” Anna’s now-deceased father was also Langton’s mentor. Travis’s enthusiasm helps make a favorable impression - she nightly takes home victim files to get up to speed with the cases, although she is sorely tested by her first corpse and coroner’s exam.
The squad is subject to constant budget constraints and reliant on the good will of their superiors, who in turn must answer to the people. Far from glamorous, this is tedious labor - checking and rechecking facts, witnesses, necessary minutiae - but this last case may have provided a much-needed break for the detectives.
Her presence increasingly requested by Langton, Travis takes her cues from her unpredictable superior, who is himself by turns elated at new information and depressed by a lack of progress. Finally, the meager clues bear fruit, all pointing to the son of a prostitute, one of the serial killer’s victims; the son’s name is Anthony Duffy, now a well-known actor, Alan Daniels.
No matter how certain they are that Anthony/Alan is the killer, the evidence is circumstantial, and Daniels is unfailingly courteous and cooperative. He appears charmed by Anna, confusing her and blurring the lines that divide professionalism and a growing attraction. Alan Daniels is either a considerate gentleman or a practiced sociopath.
Langton suggests Travis take advantage of Daniel’s interest and ingratiate herself with him in hopes of finding the critical piece of evidence that will put him away. Despite being “Frank the Knife’s” daughter, Anna is hampered by a lack of self-confidence in her relationships with men, making her a tempting target for the inscrutable Daniels. Anna is reluctant to act as a decoy, but her instincts win out.
This police procedural combines the inner workings of a tough occupation and LaPlante’s gifted writing within this genre, shuffling characters, clues and plot elements for maximum suspense. While the sardonic Langton waxes hot and cold in equal measure, Travis is both sympathetic and likeable, a compelling combination.
Increasingly savvy in this new job, Travis takes to murder, although she first suffers the usual pangs of initiation, foolish mistakes and dangerous situations born of her naiveté. Anna Travis is at home on her new turf, ready for her next assignment.