What would happen if the citizens of a big-scale suspense novel were as many-dimensional as the suspects in Walters’s seven striking mysteries—too complex by far to be pigeonholed as heroes and villains? They’d be the denizens of Bassindale Estate, the English housing project that erupts in a violent riot.
Thanks to Fay Baldwin, a spiteful health-care visitor who didn’t retire soon enough to keep herself from spreading the news that police had just relocated a known pedophile to guilelessly named Humbert Road, the street is soon abuzz with rumors about Nicholas Hollis, né Milosz Zelowski. It’s particularly bad timing for Nicholas’s neighbor Laura Biddulph, whose ten-year-old daughter, Amy Rogerson, has just walked out of Laura’s intolerable domestic arrangement—a clear-eyed swap of sex for shelter with middle-aged bus driver Gregory Logan and his two monstrous children—and off the face of the earth. And it’s even worse timing for Nightingale Health Centre physician Sophie Morrison and WPC Wendy Hanson, both of whom are trapped inside Bassindale when outraged neighbors egged on by shiftless teenagers armed with Molotov cocktails constitute themselves a lynch mob. In crossing over from ferociously literate whodunits like The Shape of Snakes (2001), Walters handles the teeming cast and the buildup of danger and suspense authoritatively, from the opening whispers to the inevitable fatalities. Her real achievement here, however, is in the oddly sympathetic pedophile, the angry heroine, her ex-con rescuer, the pitifully unformed teenage provocateurs, Amy’s willfully irresponsible mother and smoothly complicit father, and an underage victim who turns out to be just as exploitative, though a lot less powerful, than the plausible scoundrel who preys on her.
Even if the convulsive strands in Walters’s largest web yet never come together with the knotty precision of her earlier plots, they all show the damning effects of helplessly raging long-term victims thrashing out in turn to hurt anyone in reach.