The generally quiet borderland between England and Wales plays host to two mysteries that are clearly connected, though it’s impossible to say how.
Twenty hours after psychologist Selena Cole vanishes from her daughters’ sides at a local playground, she reappears just as abruptly and mysteriously with unidentified blood on her sweater and no memory of her time away. Her disappearance is particularly ironic because the Cole Group, the company founded by her and her late husband, Ed, had specialized in kidnap and ransom cases, some of them involving corporate employees and tourists who’d been abducted by experienced groups like Escorpion Rojo that used scopolamine, “devil’s breath,” to reduce their victims to zombies with neither the will to fight their kidnappers nor any memory of their ordeal. But the disappearance and reappearance of the woman newspapers call The Rescuer, DC Leah Mackay soon realizes, is only half the story. Leah’s brother, newly minted DS Finn Hale, is heading the team investigating the fatal stabbing of defense solicitor Dominic Newell. The obvious suspect in Newell’s murder, his troublesome client Beck Chambers, has a disappointingly solid alibi for the killing but turns out to be connected to the Coles, who rescued him when he was taken hostage five years ago and then offered him a job. As Finn pursues one false lead after another, Kavanagh (The Killer on the Wall, 2017, etc.) intersperses her account of Leah’s inquiries with flashbacks recounting some of the Cole Group’s earlier cases, any one of which would be enough to make you think twice before booking your next trip to Latin America. Which of them provides the most revealing analogue to Selena’s own case?
In the end, the kidnapping back stories are more plausible, more compelling, and more shivery than the double-decker present-day mystery, whose final surprise is the feeblest of them all.