Sent off on a holiday to recuperate from a near-fatal attack (The Hireling’s Tale, 1999), Castlemere CID sergeant Cal Donovan has barely maneuvered his narrow boat ten miles up the canal from home when delirium from pneumonia sets in. When he awakens days later, he’s in the care of secretive Sarah Turner, her fey, slow-witted granddaughter Elphie, and autocratic Dr. Chapel, informal paterfamilias to the close-knit villagers of East Beckham. Meanwhile, Donovan’s superiors, Supt. Frank Shapiro and Insp. Liz Graham, short-handed and overwhelmed by an urban terrorist who has intimated he could easily taint supermarket yogurt with botulism, pour acid into the school showers, and douse the baby lotion at the chemist’s with a caustic contaminant, try to recall Donovan by mobile phone and, when he can’t be reached, send out a search party. They find his boat, his dog, his warrant card, but not Donovan, whom they presume to have drowned. Stunned by grief and outraged by the threat of Castlemere vigilantes, Graham and Shapiro concentrate on their immediate problems, sending the perp scurrying to a children’s home to lob vials of plague at the residents. Even if they can somehow thwart the madman and his self-appointed scourges, they wonder, how can they face the prospect of a Castlemere CID without Donovan?
The braiding of Bannister’s two plots is meandering and never quite believable. But through their scars, the Castlemere triumvirate of Shapiro, Graham, and Donovan has acquired an emotional depth that pushes this series to the front ranks of British procedurals.