A Devonshire reporter is accused of being a serial child-killer.
Once Angus Dillon found the body of young Julie Makepeace buried on Studleigh Common, his life spiraled downhill. Even though he’d volunteered for the search party to find Julie, his DNA on a cigarette butt near her corpse drew suspicion to him as a possible killer, and a burgeoning alcohol problem cost him his job. Five years later, he spends his days pretending to write a book while his lawyer wife Joan supports them. Joan avoids her sad-sack husband as much as she can. As she’s wasting an evening in a wine bar, she strikes up a conversation with Sarah Makepeace, Julie’s aunt. Thinking she’s found a kindred spirit, she invites Sarah to dinner. But the evening spells more disaster for hapless Angus when Joan falls in love with Sarah’s escort, flirtatious Neil Carver. Joan leaves Angus, but his troubles are far from complete; soon he’s arrested for the murder of teenaged prostitute Tara Davidson. While the cigarette butt in the Makepeace case was less than convincing, police regard Angus’s DNA on a handkerchief under Davidson’s body as incontrovertible proof and try to browbeat a confession out of him. His only hope is Sarah, who believes in his innocence—and in a secret locked in an old woman’s memory that might exonerate Angus, if it ever sees the light of day.
McLoughlin’s grim ninth (The Unforgiven, 2008, etc.) uses a preposterous gimmick to solve a non-mystery.