Six weeks after solicitor Maggie Fry is found wandering Ringham Moor in an amnesiac daze after a knife slash leaves her face horribly scarred, Jenny Weston is even less lucky. She’s stabbed to death and arranged in a cruel parody of a dancer’s pose among the moor’s Nine Virgins, stones that have stood for thousands of years only half a mile away from the site of Maggie’s attack. Edendale detective Ben Cooper is convinced that he could nail Jenny’s killer if only Maggie could give him a physical description of her assailant, but the tireless questioning of Ben’s colleague and ex-lover, Acting Sergeant Diane Fry, seems only to make Maggie dig in her considerable heels. It looks as if the break will have to come from one of the other locals: louring farmer Warren Leach, farm hand Keith (“Slasher”) Teasdale, fey Simon (“Stride”) Bevington and his companion Calvin Lawrence. But the ugly, exhausting revelations that keep tumbling out—dogfighting, assault convictions, kiddie porn, an unacknowledged daughter, a remorseful suicide—don’t come in time to prevent a third attack, and Ben and Diane are still struggling with half a dozen mysteries—some unrelated, some all-too-related—and with each other moments before the curtain thuds down.
As mannered in its writing and cluttered in its plotting as Ben’s and Diane’s grim debut (Black Dog, 2000), but even more demanding, more substantial, and more knowing about the darkest recesses of the heart. A strong brew for readers who can take it.