When brilliant scientist Roger Troy’s brainy, beautiful, perfect wife Joanna died of cancer three years ago, shortly after giving birth to their daughter Emilia, Roger’s emotional tailspin sent him to the psychiatric ward in Kennet Hospital, where he stayed for 18 months while his daughter was fostered out and her care supervised by Joshua Salem, an all-too-doting social worker. Now married to one of his nurses, reunited with his daughter, and slowly patching up his life, Troy is once again on the verge of collapse, what with three-year-old Emilia having been kidnapped. The case is turned over to Thames Valley police superintendent Gregory Summers (The Lone Traveller, 2000), and everyone seems convinced that if they find Salem, who has scampered, they’ll find the child. But Salem is lying dead in a meadow, drugged and strangled. Despite a few missteps by newly appointed DCI Megan Davies, a former weekend fling of Summers’s, an unexpected confession is tendered, but, since most of its facts are wrong, Summers keeps on digging, eventually focusing on revenge—and the one person who never thought Joanna was so perfect. Kidnapping and murder take a backseat to the patching up of problematic love relationships: Summers’s May-December romance with his son’s widow; DCI Davies’s parents’ wrestling match with a love shadowed by Alzheimer’s; a plain second wife competing with a spectacular predecessor; and a lonely nerd all too readily seduced by the promise of love.
The villain is barely there, but the other characters’ motivations are sensitively drawn, and their self-doubts provide plenty of fireworks.