After a short prologue, this novel begins with an explosion at a seaside resort. Detective Inspector Phil Brennan, his parents, his wife, and his small daughter are the targets. Brennan’s father doesn’t survive, but the detective and his mother are sent to the hospital in critical condition. His wife, criminal pathologist Marina Esposito, is thrown free of the building and in less serious condition, if badly bruised. The couple’s three-year-old daughter, Josephina, is nowhere to be found. Marina wakes up in the hospital to learn that her husband is in a coma but refuses to remain under doctor’s care once she realizes her daughter is missing. When Detective Constable Annie Hepburn, one of the members of the Essex Major Incident Squad (MIS), of which Esposito is a part, leaves Marina’s side for a minute, she returns to find the patient has disappeared.
What no one in authority realizes is that Marina has received a call from a cell phone placed in her purse beside the hospital bed. The voice on the other end of the line demands Esposito’s cooperation if she ever hopes to see Josephina again. In a blind panic, Marina steals DC Hepburn’s keys and vehicle when she steps away, racing to meet the deadline set by the stranger who has her daughter. Warned that she is under surveillance, Marina dare not contact the police or reveal the task she has been given.
The stage is set: a husband’s life hangs in the balance, and a desperate mother is willing to do anything that is asked—anything—to be reunited with her daughter. A cat-and-mouse game leads Marina on a frustrating pursuit, unaware that others are caught up in a counterplot that speaks of a long bitter history between adversaries, a complication for Esposito and the dead bodies left in its wake. At the same time, the Essex MIS team offers support to the officers in charge in the district where the explosion occurred, attempting to locate Marina without stepping on another jurisdiction’s territory. That problem relegates their activities to near obscurity and leads to critical lapses in information-sharing that could aid in finding both Marina and her daughter.
A convoluted plot takes shape as various characters assume their places in a drama defined by senseless violence, cruelty and murder, including the scene of a family massacre, the suspect convicted of that crime doing everything in his power to bury the memories of the traumatic event. Unwittingly, this criminal becomes a pawn in a deadly game of wits, where ugly secrets from the past threaten a powerful family and a man bent on revenge goes to any extreme to turn the tables on those who have cheated him of his future.
It’s a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly, some well-plotted parts and some that defy the imagination (a hidden GPS that “someone” might think to look for), a surfeit of tawdry sexual innuendoes, and the ragged emotional state of a professional woman brought to near-senselessness in her panic, Esposito forgetting her training in her terror. Some are truly bizarre (the bad), some without the urgency required of a situation (the good), and one called “The Golem” (the ugly) a freak of nature and temperament. Often the unruly scenarios seem too extreme in contrast to the police investigation of the explosion and missing child, the novel losing much of the element of suspense in one outrageous scene after another. Everything is neatly resolved at the end, worse the wear for over-the-top violence and too little character development, too many freakish scenes and not enough reality.