A sour sun shines down on the lives of Hill’s characters in this dark drama
in which an evil murderer lurks in the shadows, preying on prostitutes and veiling his intentions under a robe of righteousness. On the main route toward the Lafferton canal, the muddy towpath full of shadows, the Beanie Man watches and waits, his voice a mere whisper as he lures yet another unsuspecting girl to her death.
Abi Righton is well aware of the inherent dangers as she walks the streets in the bitter cold and falling rain. Crammed into a dumpy bed-sit while forced to feed her young children a diet of sausages and toast, Abi relies on Hayley, her friend and co-worker, to look after the kids while she’s out waiting for punters. Life is hard for Abi
and Hayley. Abi places her savings in an old biscuit box, trying to ignore the sneers and scoffs of her friend Marie who can’t quite believe that Abi wants to “pack it all in, get out, save up, and look towards a brighter future.”
The new and visible presence of prostitution and drug use in Lafferton is cause for concern for Cat Deerbon, Simon Serrailler’s sister. A duty doctor who has been thinking of doing a course in palliative care, Cat is still reeling from the death of her husband, Chris. Retreating to her farmhouse and to the security of Judith, her kind and practical mother-in-law, Cat’s grief, tears and rage are tempered by the knowledge that girls like Abi are playing a cruel and dangerous game.
Hill’s diabolical novel moves between Cat’s concern and anxious thoughts as a damp, thin mist drifts over the black water of the Lafferton canal. Simon Serrailler is forced to return to Lafferton after six weeks on the remote Island of Taransay when Abi’s
friend Chantelle Buckley is reported missing. All that is left of Chantelle are the CCTV images of her wearing a distinctive bright green nylon jacket and short skirt. Simon is
certain that a killer with a hatred of or a grudge against prostitutes is on the loose, murdering two and leaving a third one for dead.
When the depressive, unstable wife of the dean of the local Cathedral vanishes, Simon is caught up in a spider’s web of cases. With the help of his new sidekick, DS Ben Vanek, Simon focuses attention on college librarian Leslie Blade. Nicknamed “Loopy Les,” Blade spends his nights handing out sandwiches and flasks of hot drinks to the girls on the street.
Even though Blade’s motivation is vague, though, it’s clear that he’s not a killer or a ‘religious nutter,” unlike the group of parish members who run the local Reachout Van, hiding their concern for the women under a cloak of judgment and condemnation.
Maneuvering Simon and Ben’s frustrated investigation to include Ruth’s disappearance, the parish politics of Lafferton, Abi and Hayley's daily struggles and the search for the killer, Hill portrays the seamy realities of the prostitutes’ destitute lives
- and the concern of those like Cat who would love to get them off the streets. Meanwhile, Jonty Lewis, Marie’s pimp, has done a runner after totally wrecking her ramshackle caravan. The police know that bad boy Jonty is guilty of possession and aggravated assault; finding him is Simon’s number-one priority.
Battling through dual cases with scarce clues, Simon has little doubt that two murders and the near-murder of one the prostitutes are linked. As Lafferton's cathedral chimes for its midnight ring, echoing around the cold and empty streets, Simon
faces relentless evil, along with the constant frustration that this killer is proving to be way ahead of the game.