The character of Dr. Cat Deering, sister to series hero Simon Serraillier, and the story of one of the accused murderers prevent this book from lapsing into cliché. Cat is a complex mixture of science and faith. She is dealing with an enormous tragedy in her life, and she is working hard to mend her fractured family. But at the start of the book, all is not going smoothly. The accused murderer, Leslie Blade, is just one of many characters Susan Hill juggles in this fifth book in her series. Set in a fictional medium-sized city in England, Hill brings us both the intimacy of small-town living and the violence and crime of a big city.
Police detective Simon Serrailler is on an extended leave at the beginning of the book. He is prematurely called back to duty because someone is murdering prostitutes. His sister, Cat, is involved through her church. The wife of the new minister is hell-bent on creating a center for the prostitutes, and Cat is called upon to be a part of the discussion committee. Then one of Cat's new patients is a likable young prostitute who is trying to care for her young son and daughter. This all comes together when, with a lot of foreboding, the young woman becomes one of the killer's victims and the minister's wife goes missing.
In investigating the cases, the police meet Leslie Blade, a middle-aged man who brings snacks and hot tea to the prostitutes. He has an ailing mother and a job with a university library to tie him down. If the story had concentrated just on him, it would have been worthy. However, we have several prostitutes, a bone-headed junkie boyfriend, a new minister and his steamrolling wife, the minister's assistant, Leslie's co-worker, and Leslie's mother's caregiver thrown into the mix with Simon's sister, her children, his father and new stepmother. Each one has a lot of face-time in the book. Normally, this level of complexity would have been enjoyable, but most of the stories were like soda without the fizz. I personally wanted to strangle the minister, and I'm sure that was Hill's intention.
This is still one of the series I can't wait to read, more for what is happening with the Serrailler family than for the latest serial killer haunting the city of Lafferton.