An English detective works to solve a mystery that's shadowed by memories of his boarding school days.
A few days before Christmas, a young woman's body, stuffed into a trash bag, is dragged from a river bank in an unnamed city southeast of London. Lead detective Alexander "Ander" Widdowson's search for the perpetrator becomes complicated when his charismatic English teacher from three decades ago, now retired, is identified as the prime suspect. Based on scant physical evidence, the police apprehend Michael Wolphram, the victim's neighbor, a fastidious bachelor with a taste for luxuries "for the ear, the eye and the mind, not for the body," like Wagner's music and "films that have subtitles and last four hours." Almost immediately, the arrest ignites a media frenzy fueled by an unscrupulous reporter with an open checkbook who's happy to compensate anyone even remotely connected to the suspect, at least those willing to dish dirt of dubious quality that will fuel the public's lust for vengeance. With expert pacing, McGuinness (The Last Hundred Days, 2012, etc.) smoothly juxtaposes Ander's doubts that the crime has been so easily solved with flashbacks to memories of Wolphram, fueling his disbelief that his former instructor is a man capable of murder. Ander's colleague Gary, a cynical police veteran with a penchant for handing out dismissive nicknames (Ander is "Prof" in deference to his university degree), brings both street smarts and comic relief to the tale. McGuinness' intelligent prose and his frequent, but unobtrusive, riffs on subjects like instant street shrines to murder victims (the "business of death and mourning as public property, like the Olympics or royalty") or the venom of the British tabloid press, determined to "take a man's past and coat him in guilt," are consistent added pleasures in a novel that layers literary complexity and depth over a fully satisfying crime story.
A smart police procedural that deftly integrates its protagonist's past and present in his search for a murderer.