An old-fashioned reworking of themes from Rebecca—the inconsolable husband, the too-perfect wife, the inadequate replacement, the timely natural disasters—first published in the UK in 1997.
Just as solicitor Alex O’Neill’s London life is falling apart—the key witness her husband and partner Paul providentially found to get their client, crime lord Ronnie Buck, acquitted of assaulting a police officer was clearly bought and paid for—along comes a voice from her past to pull her out of her endless rounds of defending the guilty and tucking sozzled Paul into bed. The voice is that of her disliked brother Edward’s tenant farmer Will Dearden back in the Norfolk village of Deepwell. Will’s dazzling wife Grace, the woman he threw Alex over for 12 years ago, has gone missing, and her whole family—Will, his mother Maggie, and his dyslexic son Charlie—are frantic. Well, not Grace’s whole family, since her mother, flamboyant Veronica Bailey, is as firmly convinced that Will’s behind her daughter’s disappearance as that Grace was wrong to marry him. Will has called on Alex as his family solicitor, but nearly everything Alex does—thumbing through Grace’s appointment book, checking her phone records, walking the marshes to determine who opened the sluices in an attempt to flood the land Will was about to sell Edward under protest—pits her professional status against her powerful loyalty to the Deardens, especially to Will. By the time she discovers Grace’s body beneath one of the sluice gates and embarks on still another round of questioning the same uncomfortably small circle of suspects, it’s clear that Alex has some tough decisions ahead of her.
Despite a tendency to revisit each piece of evidence and each increasingly self-damning bit of testimony perhaps one time too many, Francis (Betrayal, 2002, etc.) digs satisfyingly deep into her characters and the soil from which they’ve sprung.