Pathologist John Eisenmenger and Beverley Wharton, now an Acting Chief Inspector, meet a serial murderer even more task-obsessed than they are.
It’s hard to raise the gruesome stakes in this highly regarded series, but McCarthy (Corpus Delicti, 2010, etc.) does his best from the get-go with a Gloucestershire farmer’s discovery of the severed head of an elderly builder who was dying of cancer before someone used a guillotine to speed him on his way. The next discovery is a headless body that Beverley Wharton would assume to be Dominic Trelawney’s if it weren’t female. It’s followed by the appearance of a corpse with a mismatched head. As if these finds weren’t ghoulish enough, interpolated chapters provide vivid, nightmare-inducing accounts of the victims’ last moments after they’ve each been abducted by some sort of mad scientist who seems intent on studying their physiological reactions as they die. Retired police officer Len Barker would stand ready to link the slaughter to the estate of retired bank CEO Wallace Parker if a stroke hadn’t left Barker unable to stand, or speak. As Beverley tangles with an unsupportive superior and an inspector who hates both Beverley and her own sorry life, the bodies of victims of both sexes and all ages pile up, electrocuted, strangled or suffocated. What, if anything, do they all have in common, and how long will the carnage continue?
McCarthy’s fans will know that not every cliffhanger is likely to be happily resolved. The unwary are duly warned.