Minette Walters' most recent thriller begins in England at the bedside of a soldier nearly killed with two of his men in Iraq. Lt. Charles Ackland survived the explosion that took the lives of the others, but his prognosis is troublesome: one side of his face is horribly scarred, the eye blinded, in sharp contrast to the other side, which remains untouched. Clearly this young man will face a great number of issues in the coming months, his life radically altered by the vagaries of war.
Attended by psychiatrist Dr. Robert Willis, the awakening Charles recovers much more quickly than anticipated, but with a marked hostility toward women, nurses included, and an uncontrollable temper that may be the result of traumatic brain injury - or something deeper and more sinister. When Acklandís former fiancť, Jennifer Morley, appears in his room and a violent confrontation ensues, Willis is hard-pressed to diagnose his patientís readiness to enter the outside world.
Meanwhile, the local police are confounded by a series of deaths, the brutal beatings of three single men; clearly a serial killer is at large, but whether the crimes are linked is still at issue. But after a brawl at a local pub, the Bell, Detective Superintendent Brian Jones is made aware of the disfigured soldier by virtue of Charles being in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the company of an unusual woman - the weight-lifting, gender-bending physician Jackson, who comes to Acklandís rescue as he suffers a debilitating migraine after the fight.
As strange a figure in her own way as Ackland, Jackson remains uninhibited by the soldierís injuries, more worried about his continued anti-social behavior and resistance to returning to society. Perhaps because of her masculine demeanor and figure, Charles grudgingly respects Jackson, though he tries her patience by disappearing overnight, causing the doctor to entertain suspicions about his activities.
Meeting up with eccentrics like the crusty old alcoholic Chalky and an arrogant teen-aged runaway, Jackson treats for diabetic complications, Ackland does indeed associate himself with strange company, keeping his own counsel even when threatened by the prying detectives about his whereabouts at the times of the murders.
Mixing in a few streetwalkers, dealers and other opportunists, Walters salts her cast with the seedy, the suspicious and the unpredictable, not the least of whom is the enigmatic Lt. Charles Ackland. Emphasizing the effects of war on retuning wounded soldiers, Walters gives voice to modern concerns and the usual convoluted mystery to slowly unravel as the novel progresses. With this sympathetic protagonist and a series of inexplicably brutal acts against helpless victims, the author offers her readers a challenge: has the war created a hero or a monster?