It looks like a routine domestic call for Probationary Police Constable Janet Taylor and her partner Dennis Morrisey. But throwing a vase at his wife Lucy’s head—the action that got neighbor Maggie Forrest, herself a fugitive from an abusive husband, to dial 999—is probably the least violent thing schoolteacher Terry Payne has done all night. In a homemade dungeon in Terry’s basement the corpse of one woman who’s just been murdered and the remains of four others make it clear that Terry is the so-called Chameleon who’s been terrorizing blonde girls throughout Yorkshire. Even the likelihood of Terry’s guilt, however, isn’t enough to rescue Janet Taylor from the threat of criminal charges after she repels his assault on her by beating him savagely. “If this was America, I’d be a hero,” she wanly tells Acting Supt. Alan Banks, who has to turn the questioning of Janet over to his sometime lover, Inspector Annie Cabbot, because he’s busy wondering just how much Lucy Payne must have known about her husband’s sickening second career—especially after Lucy is identified as one of the Alderthorpe Seven, children who were shockingly abused by their own parents—and figuring out just how the current round of atrocities is connected to Lucy’s nightmare ten years ago.
The lack of any real surprise puts Banks’s 12th case a cut below In a Dry Season (1999) and Cold Is the Grave (2000), and his soap-opera romantic life seems a mite thin. But Robinson’s canvas is as admirably broad and his insight into character and motive as keen as ever.