DI Tom Thorne and his lover, DS Helen Weeks, return to Helen’s hated hometown in Warwickshire to confront some ugly accusations and some even uglier secrets.
Now that he’s finally found the time to take Helen away from London to the Cotswolds for Valentine’s weekend, Thorne (The Bones Beneath, 2014, etc.) is distraught to see a broadcast on the telly that has Helen packing her bags again when they’ve only just arrived. But Helen is determined to leave with or without him for Polesford, a place she has little reason to love, once she recognizes her classmate Linda Jackson as the wife of Stephen Bates, who’s accused of kidnapping two 15-year-old girls. DI Tim Cornish listens patiently as Thorne notes the circumstantial nature of the evidence against Steve, but he’s confident that they’ve got the right man banged up. So is the rest of the town, which quickly turns on Linda for standing by her man and Helen for poking her nose into their business. When searchers find the corpse of Jessica Toms, the forensic discoveries seem to tighten the noose around Steve’s neck even further. But Thorne grows more and more skeptical, and as the evidence against Steve continues to pile up, he enlists his old friend, pathologist Phil Hendricks, to poke holes in the case against Steve so that he can identify the killer, who’s devised an unusually devious way to fudge the forensics, before he can kill his second victim, Poppy Johnston, whose fate Billingham follows one heartbeat at a time.
Despite hints to the contrary, the crime and the investigation are routine, and the killer is a cipher. What lingers in the memory is the group portrait of the Polesford locals brutally closing ranks against a man they’re certain deserves to die.