Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler goes undercover in a highly secure prison to gather evidence in a child prostitution case in Hill’s latest series installment (A Question of Identity, 2012, etc.).
Despite its quaint exterior, the fictional English town of Lafferton holds dark secrets. Approached by his superiors because of his previous experience with violent crime, Serrailler—who bypasses the gruff and crusty detective stereotype and ends up being simply unpleasant—agrees to pose as a sex offender in order to tease information out of Will Fernley, the key player in an Internet child pornography ring. Fernley is housed in one of the U.K.’s “therapeutic communities” rather than a typical high-security facility like Dartmoor; Stitchford aims to help the worst of the worst come to grips with their crimes through intense therapy. As Johnno Miles, Serrailler pretends to bare his soul and so must also listen to explicit stories of the other men’s heinous acts, primarily against women and children. He gains Fernley’s trust and makes the potentially deadly decision to follow the posh yet slimy man when he escapes from Stichford. On the outside, Serrailler’s girlfriend, Rachel—though it’s unclear why she’s attracted to a man who doesn’t seem to care about her one way or another—is clueless about the dangerous, top-secret mission, as is Serrailler’s sister, Dr. Cat Deerbon, who knows only that Serrailler will surface when the job’s done.
Graphic depictions of sexual violence against children may turn the stomachs of even the most seasoned crime-fiction fans, and for a hero, Serrailler is decidedly unlikable.