Nursing sister Bess Crawford’s errand of mercy to a seemingly innocuous village in the Gower Peninsula of South Wales turns slowly into a waking nightmare.
A year after the Great War has ended, Bess (A Casualty of War, 2017, etc.) is still working with veterans who lost limbs after being wounded on the front when she’s called away from Gloucestershire by an entreaty from Capt. Hugh Williams, who’s recovered sufficiently from his depression after the amputation of a leg to become thoroughly alarmed that he and the men formerly under his command are at a high risk for suicide. Taking advantage of some vacation time, Bess follows Hugh’s trail to Swansea, then to the village of Caudle, where Rachel, his brother Tom’s farm widow, has taken him in. Trouble starts almost the moment Bess arrives. The driver who’s brought her to the village vanishes mysteriously the first night she’s there, leaving her with no obvious way to leave. As she does her best to strengthen Hugh’s own resolve to live amid his sorrows, a slow wave of violence washes over the village. Even though Hugh insists he fell down, someone’s clearly attacked him. Then Oliver Martin, who arrived in the company of Ellen Marshall, a well-to-do Cardiff woman who’s returned to Caudle, where she used to summer with her grandfather, is beaten more thoroughly, and Edward Stephenson is found clubbed to death on the strand. What’s even more disturbing to Bess is her dawning sense that the villagers have united to keep a secret so dreadful that they can’t afford to let her leave to share her suspicions with any outsiders. Will the intervention of Sgt. Maj. Simon Brandon, her father’s old batman, be sufficient to rescue Bess from the worst vacation ever?
Todd patiently, decorously evokes a sense of suffocating unease before the inevitably anticlimactic conclusion.