A middle-class cleaning lady. A porn kingpin. A detective who cuts herself. Hayder (Gone, 2010, etc.) has assembled an unusual cast for her latest crime novel.
Her leads, Zoë and Sally, live in Bath in the West of England; they are sisters, long estranged. Both have self-esteem issues. Big sister Zoë, feeling unloved as a kid, took it out on Sally, once breaking her finger. A smart loner (her best friend is her Harley), Zoë became a detective; but still self-hating, she often punctures her skin. Sally is the airhead, miserably aware of her shortcomings. Dumped by her husband, she is raising their teenage daughter on her own and cleaning houses to make ends meet. The novel begins with the dead body of Lorne, a pretty, popular 16-year-old, found beside a towpath, raped and murdered. Zoë is assigned to the case, along with Ben, who she’s been dating. After some fieldwork, attention shifts to the owner of a mansion Sally cleans, David Goldrab. He oversees a porn empire and has some connection to a top-ranking but corrupt civil servant; both men were involved in human trafficking in Kosovo. Goldrab is an entertaining, foul-mouthed villain, and some of the air goes out of the novel when he meets, all too soon, a violent end. His connection to Lorne is nonexistent, but her murder investigation gets back-burner treatment as Zoë focuses on Goldrab’s disappearance. There will be a second rape and a lightly sketched dismemberment, tame by Hayder standards. What’s disconcerting is that Zoë acts more like a PI than one link in a chain of command with bosses, even telling Sally, “I’m not going to the police.” Yes, that’s sister Sally, for by now the two have reconciled, and the spectacle of these sisters gaining strength and self-respect has become as important as the chills and thrills.
The psychobabble and uncertain focus make this one of Hayder’s less-impressive works.