Police detective Gemma Woodstock works to solve the murder of a former classmate in Bailey’s debut mystery.
When Rosalind Ryan’s body is discovered at the edge of a lake surrounded by red roses, detective Gemma Woodstock and her partner, Felix McKinnon, begin investigating the most complex case of their careers. Rosalind and Gemma attended high school together in the small town of Smithson, so Gemma’s memories of Rosalind, who was devastatingly beautiful but also aloof and mysterious, color her exploration of the dead woman’s more recent past. Everyone claims to have loved and admired Rosalind: the principal of the school where she taught English and drama; the many students whose lives she touched; her wealthy father and her three brothers. But someone is lying. Gemma becomes obsessed by and exhausted from not only the case, but the memories it stirs up of a high school boyfriend’s suicide. She has her own secrets and life complexities, after all; she has a child with a man who wants to marry her, but she’s having an affair with Felix, who is also married, and to top it all off, Christmas is coming. There are echoes of Tana French in the novel, but Bailey’s characters lack the nuance of French’s damaged, brilliant detectives, and her writing falls short of French’s lyricism. Still, she smoothly incorporates Gemma’s past into the novel to flesh out her character, and Rosalind, while ultimately oversimplified, drives much of the novel’s sense of mystery. As all the loose ends of Gemma’s life are tied up in tandem with solving the mystery, there seems to be little suggestion of a sequel. Which is probably a good thing, as Gemma and Felix aren’t quite gripping enough to warrant a second outing.
A satisfying mystery novel with a relatable heroine, if not a revelatory one.