October 1962: Whitebridge, Lancashire, waits with the rest of the world in fear. Roger Cray and the workers from the British Air Industries factory sit over their pints in the Spinner discussing whether Khrushchev would dare defy the US naval blockade. USAF Capt. Wilbur Tooley, at his base near Dirty Bill’s Woods, goes to his class on British culture wondering whether he will see his wife and children again. Yet at King George’s Grammar School, even the Cuban Missile Crisis must take a back seat to more urgent matters: the murder of their new history teacher, Verity Beale, and the disappearance of her student Helen Dunn. Plagued by regret over the 1948 death of Ellie Taylor, the young kidnap victim he didn’t find in time, DCI Charlie Woodend (Dead on Cue, 2001, etc.) launches an all-out campaign to find Helen, even allowing his usually obstructive boss DCC Ainworth to offload the murder investigation onto his bagman, Monika Paniakowski, so he and his old partner Bob Rutter can work full-time on the kidnapping. But all the time in the world can’t help Cloggin’-it Charlie when he finds his path blocked, first by Wing Commander Dunn, who can’t see the urgency of finding one child—even his own—when there’s the possibility of war; then by neighboring police, who refuse to share resources; and finally by his own boss, who seems bent on hiding the very information that could save Helen’s life.
Spencer’s finest hour: a tightly plotted puzzler with surprises at every turn.