Forensic anthropologist David Hunter continues his geographical wanderings after his experiences in Norfolk, a remote Scottish island and at Tennessee’s “murder farm” in three earlier books. This latest in the series has a prologue set in the past, when Hunter’s wife and child were still alive. Hunter is asked by DI Terry Connor to attend an exhumation on Dartmoor. The body turns out to be that of a young teenager killed by “monster” Jerome Monk. Monk has been found guilty of killing her and other young women, so when he offers from his prison cell to reveal the sites of the other graves, he is brought out to the moors along with the police, prison officers and their various specialist medical and behavioural advisors. Of course, things don’t go as planned.
Eight years and three intervening novels later, Hunter is back living in London and working in academia while occasionally continuing to consult for the police. One day he is visited by Connor, no longer regarded by Hunter as a friend, who warns him that Monk has escaped from prison. A few hours later, another voice from the past in the shape of a phone call from Sophie Keller, the behavioural analyst from the eight-year-old moorland investigation, disturbs Hunter’s fragile equilibrium further. Sophie, who was somewhat sidelined during the investigation eight years ago, sounds desperate, so Hunter agrees to drive down to Devon, where she now lives, to have lunch with her the next day to hear her story. When Hunter arrives at the pub she’s selected, Sophie does not turn up so he drives to her house to find she’s been attacked.
Hunter stays with the irritating Sophie while she recuperates from her injuries. Nobody knows where Monk is, but Sophie seems obsessed with the old case, taking Hunter without advance warning to meet the mother of two of the victims and also dragging him out onto the moors again, where they think that they find evidence that Monk has been present recently. Hunter can’t seem to get the police to take him seriously about his possible sighting of Monk until an attack on another member of the original investigation provides him with an unexpected reason as to why.
The novel relies on an atmosphere of slight paranoia and suspicion as Hunter feels critical of the police for not keeping him in the picture during their search for Monk. He feels increasingly obligated to Sophie, whom he finds attractive but who annoyingly insists on staying in her remote house despite Hunter’s and the police’s conviction that she’s in danger and would be better off somewhere safer. The novel is absorbing, and clever in the way that our perceptions of various characters, from Monk through witnesses to various members of the police, shift as Hunter learns or discovers new facts. Some of the plot is predictable, for example the location of the all-action denouement, which is very obviously signalled early on. There are one or two twists in the tale, which while providing a sharp sting cannot quite lift this novel above being rather a low-key, slightly perfunctory affair. It’s enjoyable enough, and the pages turn quickly, but not quite as good as its immediate predecessor, WHISPERS OF THE DEAD.