Posh Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his surly, recently demoted (In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner, 1999, not reviewed) sidekick, Constable Barbara Havers, take a backseat to a plethora of unlikable, haphazardly motivated characters who pop in and out over epic length (enormous even by George’s garrulous standards) and nearly two decades. After Eugenie Davies becomes a hit-and-run victim, it takes 200 pages for her to get connected to violin virtuoso Gideon Davies, now undergoing therapy to discover the cause of his artistic block. In rambling rants to his therapist, he wonders whether his mother Eugenie’s abrupt departure years ago is now haunting him. Gideon recalls their lodger, James, now prowling the Internet as TongueMan; his musical tutor Raphael; his school tutor Sarah-Jane; and, most importantly, Katja Wolff, the German nanny hired to look after his baby sister, a Down’s syndrome child. As Lynley, Havers, and their cohort Nkata learn, Katja has just been released from prison, where she spent 20 years for killing her infant charge. Was she guilty? Is she now exacting revenge? And why did Gideon repress not only his sister’s murder but her very existence? There’ll be another car mishap, more death, more therapy sessions, and several bogus confessions (including one from Gideon’s misogynist, controlling dad) before this wrenching saga of family relations lurches to a horrific end.
George strews the guilt liberally, even smearing Lynley, before he finally deals with his past and his impending fatherhood. Meantime, her plot has serious problems, from Katja’s lengthy silences to the overripe corn of Gideon’s psychoanalysis. Even at diminished strength, though, George still stands several rungs up the ladder from her more superficial rivals.