In her second try as a thriller writer, Donoghue brings us back to the trials of Lewisham’s hotshot murder investigation team and into the life of DI Mike Lockyer’s embattled colleague DS Jane Bennett. Mike Lockyer may still be prowling around the office, “his eyes black, empty of reason,” but it is Jane who takes center stage in this new and fast-moving thriller in which her team at Lewisham’s Police Constabulary are charged with investigating the disappearance and possible murder of Mark Leech, a well-respected senior detective who retired from the squad five years previously.
Jane knows that Mark
was suffering from anxiety attacks, and Mark’s wife, Sue, told Jane that on several occasions Mark had felt redundant and without focus, and somehow “emasculated.” With Mark’s suicide a crushing reality, Jane and Mike begin to focus on Mark’s old cases, particularly the one that he handled a year before his retirement. The victim was a young girl called Amelia Reynolds. Amelia was raped, beaten, then strangled before her body was dumped on an allotment shed. Her killer was never found.
From the outset, Mark’s case proves to be a challenge for Jane. She’s a skilled detective, but she’s also new to leadership, and Mark’s disappearance is her first chance to head a high profile criminal investigation. She wants Mike at her side, but she’s also concerned over his struggles to come to terms with the outcome of the events that surrounded the apprehension of Lewisham’s first serial killer (events detailed in the first book,
Never Look Back). Jane had always assumed their relationship goes beyond being mere colleagues, and she’s also held tightly to the notion that Mike respects her and considers her a friend. Lately, though, Jane has become increasingly irritated by Mike’s distractedness, his dark moods and often erratic behavior, and his refusal to put the past behind him. She
has spent years keeping her life as simple as possible so that nothing that
could potentially distract her from her young son, Peter, or her job. Yet the
pressures from Mike’s boss and also Mike’s pensiveness threaten any hope Jane can ever have to stay one step ahead of the boys.
Donoghue quickly converges her plot lines, linking Mark’s disappearance with the murder of young graduate student Maggie Hungerford, whose body has been uncovered in an underground cave dug deep in the Elmstead Woods area of
southeast London. The discovery of this burial chamber leads Jane and the team to conclude that Maggie’s murder wasn’t just some crime of passion ending with a hurried burial, but that someone deliberately excavated a tomb and put Maggie down it. As Jane works to keep a tight grip on the cases, each piece of evidence is filtered out, expanding the investigation into different departments. Alarming patterns materialize, from Jane’s recent interview with Maggie’s distraught parents to the post-mortem results that show Maggie received a blow to the head before she was put in the cave to die. Maggie’s murder also suggests a more gruesome scenario: the location was chosen for specific reasons and was perhaps guaranteed to send a provocative and twisted message.
With her team quickly exhausted by the countless facts, particularly the nefarious details surrounding the death of Amelia Reynolds, and with no concrete DNA evidence linking the two prime suspects to Maggie’s murder--a fellow student and a teacher at her college--Jane quickly flounders, convinced that she needs Mike’s unadulterated help even
though she’s constantly pissed at him for acting “like a nut-job.” Adding to Jane and Mike’s stress is the discovery of yet another tomb, the victim also left to suffocate alive with a limited supply of air. Now there is incontrovertible evidence that this wasn’t a murder--not in the usual sense of the word--but perhaps an experiment set up by an overly-zealous, mentally unhinged PhD student.
From the leafy isolation of Elmstead Woods, to the bustle of Lewisham High Street, to the strange science of “taphonomy”
(the fear of being buried alive) to poor Gary Reynolds, “a wreck of a man” who lost his wife and then descended deep into alcoholism after his precious daughter was murdered, Donoghue writes with a visible sense of grisly menace: Jane, continually flummoxed by the lack of DNA evidence; the still missing Mark; the strange connection to Amelia Reynolds’s murder all those years ago; and the apparent shiftiness of Jane’s prime suspect, Victor Lebowski, who is at first charming and affable but becomes increasingly aggressive and condescending as he begins to hide behind his high-powered lawyer.
Events appear to snowball, soon thrusting Jane into the center of a crazed killer’s dark and senseless puzzle and into a climax in which we retain enough doubt to allow us to sustain plenty of what-happens-next and page-turning anxiety. Throughout, Jane remains tough-minded and gutsy as she finally realizes that only she and Mike hold the key to the whereabouts of the
elusive Mark and to the identity of a ruthless killer, unable or unwilling to put his desire for revenge to rest.