Although she's never mentioned by name, the protagonist in this book is the legendary Myra Hindley. Hindley was considered to be one of England's most notorious serial killers, and together with her partner, Ian Brady, committed the "Moors murders." For many years, the tabloid press depicted Hindley as "the most hated woman in Britain," and the crimes committed by her and Brady undeniably shocked the nation.
Death of a Murderer takes place on the eve of Hindley's funeral at Cambridge on the 20th November 2002 just as Billy Tyler, a thirty-something police constable from Ipswich, is given the twelve-hour shift of guarding her body in a West Suffolk Hospital. Due to the case's high profile, the mortuary where she is currently being housed is under heightened security, with only a small selection of the press allowed at the entrance.
As Hindley's crimes once reverberated throughout the psyche of the country, most think that going anywhere near her body will be tantamount to spiritual poisoning. Certainly Billy's wife, Sue, thinks so and she doesn't hesitate to voice her mixture of concern and outrage when he agrees to take on the job. She pleads with her husband not to go, fearing that whatever evil Hindley possessed will infect those around her, including him.
To be sure, it is a sensitive situation, and there is so much that could go wrong. Sue gives Billy a dark gleaming stone, telling him to wear it around his neck in order to protect and connect him to the purist part of himself. But against a backdrop of newspaper articles referring to her as a "sick killer," a "monster," and "the devil," her name "synonymous with evil," Billy battles his own demons, the memories of the past coming back to haunt him and none of them offering any respite.
Drifting along under the burden of a terrible anguish, his own connection to reality failing miserably, Billy worries about his fractured marriage, the lack of intimacy with Sue, and his young daughter, Emma, painfully afflicted with Down syndrome. Lately he has come to the horrible recognition that much of his life has been a blank slate, characterized by various disappointments and blame that have spread sideways.
In a series of flashbacks, he remembers his courtship of Sue and the petty disappointments that have characterized their life together
- her early miscarriage and the failed trips to India or Thailand, the places she wanted to go when she was young. As the watch continues, Billy recalls his best friend, Raymond, who once tried to starve him on a trip through Europe, and how his wealthy father-in-law, Newman, used every opportunity available to disparage Billy's lack of ambition.
There's also his disillusionment with the police force and the terrible realization that he's begun to see this beautiful damaged baby as a verdict on his marriage to Sue. Finally, as he sits and stares at a blank space on the fridge where Hindley's body is housed, contemplating the green of the mortuary doors, Billy is also
compelled to remember the tragic Trevor Lydgate and his terrible confession one night in a hotel room.
Billy becomes drawn to the fridge where her body is being kept, feeling as if he were guarding a phantom or the figment of someone's imagination. He doesn't quite believe she
is there. But when the ghost of Hindley appears, silently chain-smoking, she brings on a rush of astonishing feelings.
Even in death, she seems to be able to challenge Billy's long-held assumptions about his life.
Dark, foreboding and psychologically compelling, Death of a Murderer is a beautifully written, quite profound meditation on the dark heart of the human condition.
For Billy, this is a time when things seem hard to believe and hard to sustain as his emotions fluctuate between dread and expectation, love and disappointment while he battles to keep his marriage and family together.
In the end, this powerful, subversive novel leaves you will the feeling of how deeply the Moors Murders embedded
themselves in the psyche of this nationl; no one alive at the time could ever be entirely free of it. More importantly, however, Death of a Murderer aims to tell us much about the power of death, and how sometimes the dead can maintain a powerful
hold on the living.