Interesting that Haynes uses her previous job as a police intelligence analyst to reinforce the importance of analytics. The patterns and details from phone/communication analysis are a crucial aspect of the investigation that gradually swamps DCI Lou Smith in a case that proves to one of the most challenging of her career. Jumping us directly into the action as though weíve known Lou and her Major Crime Scene team for years, Haynesís focus is on victim Polly Leuchars, recently bludgeoned to death in the kitchen of Yonder Cottage, Cemetery Lane, Morden.
Only twenty-seven and full of life, Polly was popular. The list of suspects would be small, except for one thing: Polly reveled in non-monogamy and was rumored to be having several affairs with both men and women. Her death becomes a sounding block for Lou as she sorts through the likely candidates and motives.
Smarmy Nigel Maitland, feigning innocence and self-confidence, can shed little light on Pollyís private life. As far as Nigel and his self-obsessed wife, Felicity, are concerned, Polly minded her own business, living at Yonder Cottage rent-free while working as their groom. Not so their daughter Flora, who had fallen in love with Polly. Flora canít believe this thin, quiet blonde girl who lurked in the fringes of her childhood memories is actually dead.
Conflicted by the urgency to be part of closing the case and maintaining the facade of normalcy she knows is part of her job, Lou is caught in a conundrum. Her insistent need to find Pollyís killer is exacerbated by reports of another body: the suspected suicide of the Maitlandsí neighbor, Barbara Fletcher-Norman. Barbaraís motive for suicide is perplexing and is further complicated by the actions of her philandering husband, Brian Fletcher-Norman, who had a sudden heart attack when the patrol went around to break the news about his wife.
What are the chances of two bodies from adjacent properties turning up on the same morning in the same place? With Brian in intensive care, only his daughter Taryn can shed light on her stepmotherís death. But Taryn hates her father and hasnít spoken to him in months. With no other substantial leads, Barbara becomes the prime suspect. Drunk with rage and high on anger, Lou and the team are convinced Barbara went over to Yonder Cottage to confront Polly about her affair with Brian. She got riled up enough to kill Polly then went back to her house; overcome with remorse, she drove drunk over Cemetery Laneís quarry.
Haynes moves her story between the Serious Crime Unitís area briefing room, where the forensics reports and CCTV are essential to the case, to the onsite scenes at Briarstone and the real-time ďhouse to houseĒ investigation. We feel Louís frustrations that there is no sign of forced entry at Yonder Cottage nor any sign of a murder weapon. Little does Lou know that a critical link is one suspectís penchant for dark, addictive, kinky sex. When Louís colleague Detective Andy Hamilton gets caught up in this underworld, he imperils the precarious balance of his marriage and threatens to implode the investigation.
While I thought Haynesís novel was richly textured and conveyed a terrific sense of place, my one problem is with the authorís periodic insertion of the Witness Statements (as Lou would actually see them). This weighs down the narrative, sabotaging its fluid structure and derailing what could have been a five-star story. Still, the tale is basically well-written with realistic, acerbic dialogue that reflects Haynesís study of the various characters and how they react to Pollyís death.
Haynesís characters are unsentimental, and she capably presents all of their grief, pain and anger: selfish Felicity only cares about her reputation; secretive Brian may have a connection to a mysterious woman called ďSusanneĒ; guilt-ridden and fearful Flora paints as a way of escaping her sadness; then thereís Andy, bored in his existence with his wife and kids. Even the minor characters, from Polly, the early victim, to slimy Nigel Maitland come brilliantly to life, adding much depth and three-dimensionality to a police procedural that, in lesser hands, could have been rather pedestrian.
The novel unfolds with gritty energy, leaving Lou with a grim determination to keep her head down and concentrate on her work rather than let herself be distracted by men, especially hunky Andy. Singing to the tune of a manhunt that is better than most, the fact that Haynes portrays both Lou and Andy as so emotionally needy emphasizes the difficulty of finding justice in a world where the twisted notions of device and desire are such a threat to their lives.