A carjacker in a clown's mask drives off with an 11-year-old girl in the back seat, drawing DI Jack Caffery of Bristol's major-crime unit into a multilayered plot that also brings back unsteady female police diver Flea Marley.
Hayder's fifth novel to feature Caffery (introduced in Birdman, 1999) tones down the gruesome violence (if not the creepy scenarios), delivering a brilliantly plotted mystery that keeps you guessing not only who the villain is, but what exactly he's after. With his poorly disguised antipathy toward children, Caffery is not the best choice to investigate the disappearance of little girls. But the former Londoner, who's still losing sleep over his brother's childhood disappearance, is comfortable on the missing-person trail. Helped by his unhinged but brilliant street friend, the Walking Man, he is led to a canal with a submerged barge and an odd network of air shafts. That's where Marley (introduced in Ritual, 2008) is on her own mission to make up for a traumatic past—not to mention a recent criminal act in taking responsibility for the death of a woman her drunken brother ran over. The complicated personal history of Caffery and Marley provides a compelling undercurrent, as does Marley's confessed love-hate affair with Caffery and his checkered past. She does something most mystery writers wouldn't with their star protagonist: She has him miss major clues and get outsmarted by the mother of a missing girl. But only, of course, to a point.
First-rate mystery that takes full advantage of the wintry, moonlit West Country and the unusual skills of its lady diver.