Awesome first-fiction venture that immediately thrusts the author into P.D. James' dark orbit—with a peel-the-layers-off tale of utter emotional devastation, relieved only by the deep sensitivity and kindnesses of the detective hero, Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley.
Lynley, handsome, wealthy, and brilliant, is "so damnably charming" that pugfaced, ill-tempered probational partner Det. Sgt. Barbara Havers "couldn't understand why every criminal in the city simply didn't surrender to accommodate him." Now, Lynley must resolve a beheading already confessed to by the victim's obesely bloated daughter Roberta, who was found next to William Teys' body dressed in her Sunday best. She insisted she did it, said she wasn't sorry, and then slipped into catatonia. The true explanation is a horrific saga of abandonment, sexual manipulation, wistful rationalizations, and woeful coping—involving a child-bride, a daughter-sister forced into playing mummy (in every adult sense), child rape, infanticide, debauchery absolved in the confessional, a child victimized by her mother's grief, a woman's malicious enthrallment of two lovers (psychologically incapacitating both men), and all too many people sustaining their own lives by throwing others into chronic jeopardy. At the close, most readers, echoing Lynley, will wish that they too had had the opportunity to decapitate—at the very least—William Teys. Brilliantly drawn here are: the awful American tourists who gleefully impart the legend of the Keldate baby; Havers' claustrophobic family life; Roberta and sister Gillian connecting in anguish with the credible help of a hospital professional.
There's perhaps a shade too much symmetry (the Havers/Teys shrines, for example, and the all-too-intentionally unseeing prelates), but let's not quibble: this is a marvelous book and a searing debut.