Comparisons with Harris’s Silence of the Lambs aside, Rhodes has written a compelling thriller that continues the journey of forensic psychologist Alice Quentin, who is forced to once again find a balance between the twin bridges of good and evil. Try as she might,
Alice can’t impose order on all the crime and violence sweeping through Northwood, the country’s biggest high-security psychiatric prison. Alice has been invited by the British Psychological Society to write the first ever in-depth study of the regime at The Laurels, home to some of the country’s most violent criminals. Alice
shudders with a mix of trepidation and revulsion at the thought of spending six months in the company of a group of serial rapists and mass murderers.
The Center’s outspoken director, Dr. Aleks Gorski, is hesitant to let Alice to do her study even as he’s rushing to investigate various treatments for Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder. The Laurels’ research is cutting-edge, and Gorski speaks to Alice passionately about the holistic approach he plans to implement if funding increases. Hopefully the Center will become a place where psychologists and psychiatrists can work together alongside creative therapists to design individual treatment programs. One candidate for rehabilitation is the infamous Louis Kinsella, a serial killer of epic proportions who also shares an uncanny likeness to Alice’s father. Kinsella used every possible trick to increase his victims’ suffering in a gruesome round of murder lasting for almost two years and infiltrating every corner of London.
Kinsella’s continued incarceration parallels the police investigation of a new killing spree spreading throughout the outer boroughs of the City. Several young girls have been snatched off the street. The latest is Ella Williams, a pupil at St Augustine’s school where Kinsella was once headmaster. While Kinsella’s physical powers seem to be waning, his “doppelganger” has suddenly become Britain’s most prolific child killer. The bodies of two other little girls have recently been discovered, both apparently starved to death. It looks as though the killer stored the corpses in a freezer before dumping the bodies. One girl was even discovered shrouded
in a cardboard coffin, dumped at the three in the morning on the front steps of Bloomsbury’s infamous Foundling Museum.
The crack serial murder team lead by Alice’s old colleague DCI Burns is positive
that these crimes involve a degree of planning and show a rare level of self-awareness and premeditation. Alice
sympathizes with the fact that Burns has inherited one of London’s worst unresolved cases. For his part, Burns wants Alice to interview Kinsella. The killer is carrying on from the exact point where Kinsella stopped--and he’s getting more violent. Alice’s instinct for getting to the heart of a killer’s psyche has proved a considerable asset in the past, albeit an expertise that originates from her own private demons and the nightmares that plague her as she sits alone in her isolated cottage outside the quaint village of Charndale.
Time is of the essence: another has girl has been plucked from the street. The team believes that Ella may still be found—hopefully alive. Rhodes intersperses chapters from Ella’s point of view
in a nightmare that never stops. As Ella fights for her survival, the memories of her sister and her granddad drive her to manipulate the killer to her own advantage. Rhodes then flips back to DCI Burns and to Alice’s nemesis, Chief investigator Alan Nash, and as they race to find the owner of a white Ford transit van. Ella has had been gone three days and nights, perhaps held captive outside in the cold by a Machiavellian executioner who is choreographing a painful drama that reaches into the darkest reaches of The Laurels. As the police struggle to make sense of the clues, Alice is convinced that Kinsella knows the killer’s identity and is somehow instructing his every step.
Fleshing out her narrative with a number of supporting characters from both
Burns's Investigative Team and the psychiatrists, guards, and mental health nurses from The Laurels, Rhodes
sweeps her heroine up in an affair with good-looking Tom Jensen, the head of the Laurel’s fitness center.
As she realizes that a layer of secrets surrounds Tom too deep to penetrate, Alice confronts Kinsella, this evil, demented mastermind who is determined to manipulate her right into the darkest corner of her heart. While there’s an outside chance that his follower is just a lonely obsessive who’s done his research, Nash is convinced it is more likely to be someone who has spent a great deal of time in Kinsella’s orbit.
While not as original Harris’s novel, Rhodes’ compulsive thriller (the third in the Alice Quentin series) has a chilly resonance and a furtive, frenzied atmosphere reinforced by a winter-chilled London
as it endures one of the most freezing Christmases on record. The fact that the killer also freezes his victims adds a clever symbolic touch to an environment woven from the same overpowering material as Kinsella, who
has “the negative magnetism of a whirlpool” as he pulls people towards him with the sole aim of destroying them.
“I keep thinking of the foundlings, the links are everywhere.” The devil whispers to Alice as she finds herself drawn yet again to the historic hospital and to Sarah Robinson’s cardboard coffin, left there like a macabre sacrifice, her body dressed in the foundling night-time uniform. Unable to stop thinking of Ella, Alice investigates to her peril, unwittingly becoming the prime target of a killer who lurks in an unexpected place, thirsting for bloody, twisted revenge.