A prisoner escapes on the very night that his ex-girlfriend is murdered. Could it possibly be a coincidence?
In 1958, David Swain, protesting his innocence right up until the verdict, receives a life sentence for murdering Ethan Mendel, the new lover of his ex, Katya Osman, at Blackwater Hall, her family home. Two years later, Katya, an emotional mess, accuses her companion Jana Claes of trying to kill her with a tranquilizing injection. Jana and her husband Franz are indispensable to Katya's wealthy father Titus, the only person who seems able to calm her. He's poised to marry the elegant Vanessa, another contributor to Katya's fragile mental state, who's equally unpopular with the territorial Franz and Jana. Meanwhile, David has fallen under the spell of his prison cellmate Eddie Earle, a career criminal with a soft spot for the young man and a daring escape plan. David can barely believe his good fortune. After the duo gains freedom with barely a hitch, Tolkien takes David all the way to Katya's bedroom door, which he opens slowly as he remembers an ominous couplet of children's verse. Then the perspective shifts to Detective Inspector Trave, called unexpectedly to the mansion to investigate a murder, just as he was a scant few years ago. David, still at large, is clearly the likeliest suspect, but the veteran Trave sees other possibilities.
A thick web of family tensions and psychological dysfunction with a whodunit chaser, Tolkien's third novel (The Inheritance, 2010, etc.) is elegantly written, with Masterpiece Theatre pacing and embellishments.