Why confess to a murder that never happened?
Picture framer Aidan Seed tells his assistant Ruth Bussey, his new lover, that he murdered Mary Trelease years ago. No questions, please. Ruth not only disbelieves him but has proof that this never happened. Just a few months ago, while working for another picture framer, she fell in love with a signed and recently dated work by Mary and wanted to buy it. As a result, the artist attacked her and caused her to leave her job. Still, the confession so worries Ruth that she approaches the Culver Valley police and speaks with Detective Charlotte Zailer, recently demoted for a past entanglement with a serial rapist. Zailer and her current fiancé, socially maladroit copper Simon Waterhouse, unofficially tackle the case of the murder that wasn’t. Among their findings: Seed is the prime suspect in the murder of another woman, alternative therapist Gemma Crowther, whose past includes an interlude of torture that left Ruth with a jagged scar bisecting her abdomen, a permanent sense of paranoia and an admiration bordering on obsession for people, like Zailer, who’ve survived extreme vilification. There’s also the peculiar provenance of Abberton, one of Mary’s paintings that seems to turn up in unlikely places, including an arts festival and a girl’s school attended long ago by a certain Martha Wyers.
A complex, unnerving study of relationships, with none more stressful than that of Sgt. Zailer and DC Waterhouse. Her exemplary skills put Hannah (The Wrong Mother, 2009, etc.) right up there with Ruth Rendell.