When six-year-old Lucy Fielding goes missing and the South Yorkshire police can’t find her right away, Jane Fielding despairs, as most mothers would. And, in fact, her pessimism is pervasive. Detective Inspector Steve McCarthy, for instance, has seen too much of the world’s misery to hope for happy endings. Suzanne Milner, Jane’s best friend, has her own special miseries—linked to a younger brother’s violent death—reawakened by what she’s begun to think of as Lucy’s tragedy. And yet that’s not the way it works out. The child is safely recovered, frightened and withdrawn but physically unharmed. It’s her babysitter that the police find murdered in a deserted part of a neighboring park. And soon enough there are more bodies: first, another young woman; later, a young man. Though D.I. McCarthy is convinced the homicides are connected, evidence is hard to come by, mostly because so many people persist in lying to him. Prominent among these, he’s certain, is Suzanne Milner—a particularly galling development, since his unsettled feelings for her have already made proper investigative detachment difficult. He’s drawn to her vulnerability, infuriated by her evasions. In the end, however, it’s Lucy who holds the key that unlocks the puzzle. Nor has she done anything to hide it. It’s simply that all of the grownups concerned have forgotten how to “listen to the shadows.”
A shade overplotted, but on balance an accomplished debut by a writer with an eye toward the charmed circle shared by P.D. James, Minette Walters, and Barbara Vine.