Hayder is a dynamite writer of the thriller genre, fearless in her exploration of the dark side of human nature. This novel is no different from her others, though it took me longer to become invested in these particular characters.
Detective Inspector Zoe Benedict is a relatively new protagonist for Hayder, a tough-skinned, hard-living woman who makes her own way in Bath, England, and makes no apologies, ever. Statuesque and red-haired, Benedict is all cop with unabashed affection only for her 1980 Superglide Shovelhead Harley. Currently enjoying an intimate relationship with coworker DI Ben Harris, she finds that romantic entanglement going up in smoke when a sixteen-year-old girl is brutally murdered and Harris proves himself painfully disloyal.
Lorne Wood wanted to be a model, even after being turned down by a reputable agency, filled with the unrealistic aspirations of a teenager with her life ahead of her. Lorne’s private school classmates are understandably shattered by her murder—and inclined to keep their own secrets from the authorities investigating. When a forensic psychologist is brought into the case, Zoe is offended by how easily her team falls in line behind the assured pronouncements of the attractive profiler.
Refusing to be swayed by easy theories and striking out on her own, Zoe’s past meets up with her present through her niece, Millie. Daughter of Benedict’s estranged sister Sally, Millie is one of the dead girl’s friends, a source of information in a case quickly developing overtones of child pornography and criminal Internet commerce. Sally and Zoe have not been close since a troubling childhood incident, but Millie’s potential information brings the sisters face to face.
In drastically reduced circumstances since her divorce, Sally has been forced to accept an off-the-books job for a shady character who lives on an estate outside the city. Increasingly uncomfortable around her employer, Sally suspects he is involved in a criminal enterprise but feels compelled to keep the job, as yet unaware of the threads that will bind her activities and her daughter to Benedict’s investigation and the pornography industry flourishing in Bath. In a plot filled with terrors known and unknown, Zoe confronts her own past and the demons that have haunted her, while Sally falls deeper into a morass she cannot hope to escape.
In an elaborate plot of feints and counter-feints, Hayder works her magic, building suspense and the dread of impending violence. Balanced against the sisters’ tentative efforts to repair their damaged relationship, the menace takes on new and threatening forms, more elusive and pervasive than first appears. Benedict is enormously appealing, an independent spirit who takes no prisoners. In contrast, the pretty, frail Sally falls into shadow but comes into sharper focus as she faces the hard realities of life as a single mother with a daughter to protect. In an unusual, provocative thriller—one that leaves you with your heart in your throat at novel’s end—Hayder proves again why she has garnered a league of loyal fans.