Jill Kennedy is a forensic psychologist who has recently moved to the village of Kelton, in northern England. She has decided on a new career of writing, no longer able to work with the police after her profile of a serial killer led to the wrong man being arrested and tried. She is enjoying life in the village, meeting a set of standard characters – lord and lady of the manor, estate agent, vicar and his wife and teenage son, builder, post-office lady, headmaster and his wife, local historian and her ailing husband – in the opening chapters. The idyll is soon shattered, however, by two events: the serial killer is still at large and is now stalking Jill; and the vicar's wife is found brutally murdered, apparently by her son.
Jill, herself a widow, has previously had a relationship with widower DCI Max Trentham. Max was in charge of the serial killer case, but was taken off it when the wrong man was arrested. He and Jill have broken up, but Max is still keen on Jill and tries to regain her affections as well as to protect her from the stalker. Jill is attracted to him but is wary of rekindling their relationship after Max betrayed her by having a brief affair. However, she misses his two sons and his mother-in-law, and cannot seem to get very enthusiastic about any of the relatively large field of available males (read: suspects) in the vicinity.
Much of the book covers village life as Don Cornwall, the policeman who has taken over the serial killer case but who himself is presented as a suspicious character, tries to identify the real culprit – or does he? Max is assigned the case of the death of the vicar's wife, so there is plenty of scope for rivalry and confusion as Jill is reluctantly drawn back into the serial-killer investigation as well as trying to befriend the distraught son of the vicar after his mother's murder. Could the perpetrator, in fact, be connected to the earlier case?
The action is fast in INTO THE SHADOWS, but quite a bit of it is not that realistic. For example, Jill receives notes and tokens from the killer, but although she changes her locks and has a police guard, nobody searches her attic (where the villain is hiding out) or garden (where he lurks). And in the end, one feels that the villain could be any of the various stock male characters hanging around the capable, attractively independent Jill.
Despite the slightly formulaic, "cosy" plot, the book is unpretentious and readable – I like the imperfect yet warm characters of Jill and Max, both dealing with personal tragedies yet getting on with their lives. The book is somewhat in the Agatha Christie "Murder in the Vicarage" category with a modern slant, perfect for whiling away a wet Sunday afternoon. I hope there will be more outings for Jill, Max and Max's sons, mother-in-law and dogs.