Love among the ruins. For PC Jonas Holly of tiny Shipcott, far across Exmoor from the more sophisticated Avon and Somerset police force, the most painful element of his existence is the steady decline of his once-beautiful wife, Lucy, deteriorating day by day from the MS that has taken her body hostage. A gentle, unassuming soul, Jonas has brought Lucy to the scene of his childhood to better care for her, his job as local bobby undemanding and flexible. Jonas is stunned when an elderly woman is murdered in her bed, Margaret Priddy paralyzed by a stroke and unable to fight back against the monster who stole her breath with a pillow over her face.
Another trial arrives in the person of DCI John Marvel and his investigative team. The acerbic Marvel thrives on criticizing those of lesser rank, focusing quickly on Jonas as his latest scapegoat, the long-suffering type easily cowed by authority. Jonas endures Marvel’s carping, but when an anonymous note appears questioning his work on behalf of frightened fellow citizens, Jonas is beset with self-doubt and shame. With a second murder - another helpless old woman - Jonas is nearly undone, torn between supporting Lucy’s physical challenges as the disease progresses and solving the murders without tipping Marvel to his efforts. A bleak winter landscape adds to the weight of this psychological thriller, Jonas treading water as Lucy’s days are riddled with small victories, the villagers withdraw behind locked doors, and Marvel intensifies his verbal attacks on the unfortunate Holly.
It doesn’t help that Jonas fails to defend himself against the bullying DCI, his sensitivity with Lucy insufficient protection against a world rapidly spinning out of control and a serial killer on the loose in Shipcott. Other than the feisty, doomed Lucy, none of Bauer’s characters are likable or sympathetic, Marvel’s rants increasingly tedious, Shipcott hardly filled with gregarious and happy folks - one of them a murderer. The emotional tenor of this thriller is as depressing as the weather and the overall sense of neglect in the village, actually the perfect scenario for Death to make himself at home.
In her murky tale, Bauer plunges into the realm of the psyche, a brilliant twist (or cop out, depending on expectations) adding the final flourish to a nightmarish story where a young woman forfeits a bright future to the ravages of a particularly cruel disease, a murderer bides his time, and the angry diatribes of an investigator are met with shuttered windows and locked doors. Bauer executes a dark, psychologically elaborate plot, but I am so depressed.