Steve Mosby’s two-pronged narrative has Detective Sergeant Mark Nelson and Detective Inspector David Groves investigating parallel cases--the discovery of a missing woman and the unearthing of a mutilated body in a burned-out house. The cases are a catalyst for both detectives, jumpstarting the exploration of their tragic and painful pasts. Groves recalls the body of his son, Jamie,
being discovered in a grave in the woods in the exact same clothes he was wearing when he was kidnapped. Nelson remains haunted by the drowning death of his girlfriend, Elise, several years earlier. Although Mark has a new fiancé and has built a fairly successful career, he’s still plagued by the blurred memory that he didn’t do enough to save Elise from drowning.
Mark has no explanation for the return of the woman who calls herself Charlotte (Charlie) Matheson who
was supposedly killed in a car crash two years ago. This woman is at first confused; she’s also dressed oddly--in a white gown and trousers, as though she were a patient somewhere. She’s also adamant that she did in fact die in the crash,
though Mark explains to her that she can’t really be this person because Charlotte is dead. Clearly something terrible has happened to this woman. The elaborate scarring on her face--cuts done to a design--are evidence of what was probably some kind of systematic abuse. As this woman finds her life invaded by a detective who doesn’t quite believe her, she reluctantly begins to confide in him about the man the ambulance and how there were at least two people involved in her kidnapping.
Groves gets a card with “I know who did it” written on it, arriving the day that would have been Jamie’s sixth birthday. Still reeling from his breakup with his wife, the last thing David needs are “these freaks in his life” taunting and confessing to him, explaining in terrible graphic detail all the things that had been done to his son before he died. Reluctant to tell his superiors about this quiet, secretive threat, Groves plunges into the investigation of the dead man on
a settee in the burned-out house. Charlie, meanwhile, is initially upset to discover that her husband, Paul Carlisle, has a new life. She begins
confiding in Mark about the details of the accident, how she was driving the
ring road late at night when heard the voices of angels. Determined to get the
bottom of her confessional, Mark researches the history of Charlotte Matheson’s
accident, discovering that it was never established why Charlie was out driving at that time of night.
Unconvinced that the circumstances of Charlie’s death were accidental, Mark and his team set about reconstructing the scene of the crash. Critically important are the blown-up autopsy shots of an unidentified woman whose damage to her body make her final moments seem even more vivid and horrifying. In a corresponding track, Groves discovers certain pornographic magazines in the dead man’s house as well as the post-mortem results, which show that he most likely suffered a terrible death before he was “cut to ribbons” and then set on fire.
Shifting between both investigations, Mosby writes a disturbing thriller, employing his trademark penchant for describing a collection of disparate characters who are either tortured, menacing, or somehow connected to the fluid, hidden dangers of a place called Cane Hill. Mosby is far too talented and original to rely on tedious scenes of sexual humiliation and torture to harrow his reader's soul. Instead, he subtly incorporates the ghostly details of the terrifying 50/50 killer, a psychopath never successfully identified
who unleashed a whirlwind of violence--in particular on the ailing Chief Detective John Mercer, whom Mark literally begs to come out of retirement to help solve Matheson’s case.
At first there’s no obvious connection between the 50/50 killer
investigation, Matheson’s reappearance, or the grisly death of the man who is
later identified as Edward Leland. Yet the ties are frustrating and hang
suspended through both investigations “like a dirty black branch frozen in clear ice.” Ever present and always active, its tendrils seem to touch on other cases. With every fresh development, Groves and Nelson are plunged into a series of physical and metaphorical blood-strewn spiderwebs: the connection to Mercer, the precise designs of the scarring inflicted on Charlie, and the visualization of something intangible in the form of a complicated pattern--the 50 /50 Killer with his “devil mask” and spiderwebs and hatred of love. It soon becomes clear that Mercer is connected to the case in two ways: from the two-year murder spree of the 50/50 killer to the giant blood-red web that seems to be connected to an underground pedophile ring.
Although the secrets held within the corridors of Cane Hill keep us turning the pages up until the end, what really makes this thriller such a standout is the author’s intimate grasp of Groves and Nelson’s humanity. Groves wants to find the people responsible for Jamie’s abduction; he’s a good man and a good detective, but the loss of Jamie has left him in danger of losing his grasp on sanity. Driven by Elise’s loss, part of David’s journey is
learning to let go and finally build a life that is not built on such a personal reckoning. Mosby’s gift is that he can show us that David is a work in progress, a way the for the author to explore the damage we inflict on ourselves and each other, and the strength it takes to heal.