John Coffin, Chief Commander of London’s Second City police (A Double Coffin, 1998, etc.), lives in Second City with his actress-producer-theatre-owner wife Stella Pinero. But it’s at his old address, a house on Barrow Street now turned into a women’s refuge, that the first sign of trouble appears. On the front steps of the Serena Sheddon Shelter, someone’s left two bundles—a message to J.C. on one of them—containing a woman’s dismembered arms and legs. Inspector Phoebe Astley’s review of recently missing females produces no positive result, but soon one of them, a woman named Henriette Duval who’d worked at the refuge, is found shot to death in a local car park. Also missing are Anna Michaels, a young reporter Coffin had once dated, and Alice, stepdaughter of Robbie Gilchrist, who, along with George Freedom, helps Stella with production and financing. (Even Arthur and Dave, Stella’s housecleaners, are would-be actors.) Eventually, Alice surfaces with a pathetic story to tell, and even more eventually, Coffin puts together a blast from the past, a thwarted killing, and a nasty moneymaking scam that hits too close to home.
Butler’s style has grown ever more cryptic as her plotting has grown ever denser, but this outing will be heartily welcomed by Coffin’s legion of admirers.