There’s nothing more harrowing than the idea of strangers entering a home and taking the residents hostage. In England’s Somerset Mendips, a bucolic rural setting, it’s possible to be completely isolated from neighbors—especially at The Turrets, where Oliver, Matilda and Lucia Anchor-Ferrers have recently arrived, accompanied by Lucia’s dog, Bear. Their summer home, The Turrets is also a grim reminder of a terrible double murder that happened nearby years ago: Lucia’s ex-boyfriend, Hugo Frink, was brutally murdered, along with his fiancé, Sophie Hurst-Lloyd. Lucia was traumatized by the event, unable even now to maintain a job or consistent relationship.
That past horror comes back to life when Matilda Anchor-Ferrers enters her garden to find a terrifying, bloody reminder of the murders, certain suddenly that the killer has been released and they have not be notified by authorities. The panicked family is hastily locking doors and windows when two men arrive, announcing themselves as policemen: Detective Inspector Honey and Detective Sergeant Molina. Their fears slightly allayed, the Anchor-Ferrers slowly realize that they have been too gullible, their relief a false respite. A nightmare has begun at The Turrets, one that will seem never to end.
This is distinctly Mo Hayder territory. Resolution comes slowly, in the form of CID officer Jack Caffery, who is in the immediate area on assignment. Tormented for years by the kidnapping of his brother, Ewan, by a pedophile at age nine, Jack (who was only eight) has made it his life’s mission to find Ewan’s body. To that end, Jack accepts the challenge of a homeless man (a familiar character in Hayder novels), the Walking Man, who promises to use a prison contact to glean new information if Jack will find the owners of a lost puppy discovered by a little girl. The puppy is none other than Bear, Lucia’s dog, a fragment of a note attached to his collar: “Help us!”
The search for the owners is truly impossible, a task Jack takes on reluctantly. After days of dead ends and futility, he discovers the identity of the family and the extraordinary Oliver Anchor-Ferrers, whose fascination with light, coupled with the bizarre murder near The Turrets, inspired his design of a missile known as the Wolf, much in demand and very lucrative. Driven more by the need to learn where his brother’s body might be found, Caffery gets caught up in the mystery, drawing closer to the family in distress. Hayder exerts her usual legerdemain in a hostage situations that reeks of sadism and the growing fractures between the faux policemen, who are acting out their macabre drama on the private stage of the family home. It is a delicate balance of characters, intentions, secrets and revelations in extremity.
Ironies abound: Oliver, a brilliant man, is surviving after a surgery through the insertion of a pig’s heart for his own; Matilda, who loves her family above all, prays only for the ability to survive the ordeal; and Lucia, a cipher throughout recent events, remains inscrutable in her private pain. Hayder plays with the boundaries of human nature, the residual damage of fear, and the mindless torture of a sociopath unleashed on the innocent. In the midst of horror, there are small moments of beauty (“Matilda’s face slips away like shattered light”), a fine balance between environment and temperament, the taut unknowingness of danger and the unpredictable.