In their fifth outing, damaged ex–intelligence operative Gabriel Ash and his friend PC Hazel Best (Other Countries, 2017, etc.) tackle an abortive kidnapping that gradually, gradually reveals murderous depth.
Since his spiteful ex-wife, Cathy, already abducted their sons once and held them for four years, there’s every reason for Gabriel to assume she’s behind a second attempt to grab them as their school is being dismissed, an attempt foiled by the quick, decisive intervention of Hazel. But the obvious explanation can’t be true if, as 9-year-old Gilbert Ash maintains, the kidnappers’ real target was his nanny, Frankie Kelly. “I am not kidnap material,” Frankie robustly assures DI Dave Gorman. And she’s right; this second theory of the attempted crime turns out to be as flawed as the first. Shortly after Hazel finally figures out who the intended target was, the woman vanishes, leaving behind a lack of bona fides that show she’d been living a lie for 16 years. Undaunted, Hazel tries out a third theory: The kidnapping was one step in a deep-laid plot to avenge the death of Jennifer Harbinger, shot back in 2001 by police officers who weren’t supposed to be present while she was handing off 1.5 million pounds to the thieves who’d stolen 15 million pounds worth of paintings from her husband, road transport owner Jerome Harbinger. Harbinger’s now retired and confined to a wheelchair, but that’s not to say he couldn’t have hired the hapless pair who bungled the latest kidnapping. Is that the truth Hazel seeks, or is her third theory wrong as well?
Not much mystery here, and you’ll forget the culprit before you return Bannister’s latest to the shelf. What continues to shine in this series is the warts-and-all friendship that makes her hero and heroine, each one a perfectly reasonable sleuth, such an unlikely team.