The Cowper family—husband Thomas, wife Edith, and teenaged daughter Gemma—live in the tiny English village of Nether Bowston, next door to Alison Akenside, a reporter for the Rutland Record. Miss Crabbe, another neighbor, works at the Record too, in a minor capacity. Gemma’s academic life is guided at every step by her father, who makes no secret of his bitter disappointment when Gemma’s end-of-term marks are a disaster. It’s decided she will not return to school. Some time later Thomas and Edith Cowper are found on their kitchen floor—dead of multiple stab wounds. Gemma has disappeared. The search for her covers the county, fills the town with reporters, gives the Record a lot of work and puts its editor, Douglas Hartley, in the hospital. Alison, meanwhile, gets a rare visit from her feckless brother Andrew and an even rarer one from her mother. She also gets a tip on Gemma’s whereabouts and agonizes over what to do about it, finally making the decision that makes the least sense and produces the most guilt.
British author Doughty, new to the US mystery scene has a rare ability to pull the reader in, to make the background come alive and to leave a chill in the air with the underplayed cruelty of her dysfunctional families. Spellbinding.