Dr Selena Cole is a widow. She and her late husband Ed founded The Cole Group, operators in the secretive world of K & R – kidnap and ransom. Ed’s military experience and Selena’s qualifications as a psychologist made them the go-to people for corporations and wealthy families who had fallen foul of the highly lucrative business of international kidnapping. But then, on a blisteringly hot morning in Brasilia, it all went badly wrong. Selena went shopping for children’s toys prior to her addressing a meeting of fellow professionals in the afternoon. While she was selecting gifts for their little daughters, the bad guys attacked the hotel and conference centre, shooting, bombing and delivering a stark message. “You may think you are smarter than us, but look at the body count, and then tell us how clever you are.”
Ed, having a lie-in, before the presentations, is one of the victims. Now, months later, Selena has pretty much handed over the running of the group to her sister-in-law, Orla Britten, and her husband Seth. Their centre of operations is the Cole’s elegant period house in a village not far from Hereford. Then, Selena goes missing. One minute she is watching her girls Heather and Tara play on the swings in the playground. The next, she is gone, and a neighbour has gathered up the distressed children, and the police are called.
The first responder is Detective Constable Leah Mackay. She is married – albeit precariously – and has her own children who unwittingly provide instant empathy with the two little Cole girls. First, their father has been taken, and now their mother? It all seems impossibly cruel. Meanwhile Detective Sergeant Finn Hale, precisely 82 days into his promotion, has his first murder case. A body has been discovered beside a narrow road out in the mountains. The cause of death is a throat wound, but it is clear that the body has not bled out where it was found. Before the body became just that, an inanimate mass of tissue, a corpse, it was a ‘he’ and the ‘he’ had a name and personality – Dominic Newell.
Dominic is well-known to the local police. No, not in that sense. He was a familiar face because he was a local solicitor well used to turning out and advising local villains on their rights, and when to say “no comment.” But Dominic was different. Even the police admit that. He was a decent man, nobody’s fool, and someone willing to believe the best of people. So, who had cause to kill him and leave his mortal remains exposed to the elements on a wet hillside?
When Selena reappears, less than 24 hours after she disappeared, Leah Mackay is relieved. Not only because she will not have to deliver an awful death message, but because she has become fascinated by the strange world of Selena Cole and her associates. The problem, though, is a huge one. Selena says she can remember nothing of the intervening hours. Not one thing. Not where she went. Not who she was with. Leah is told by her boss to ditch the Selena Cole disappearance and join everyone else in hunting for the killer of Dominic Newell. She nods dutifully, but does exactly the opposite.
One of the many delights of this excellent novel is that Finna Hale and Leah Mackay are brother and sister. Finn has leap-frogged his sister in the promotion stakes, despite her evident superiority – evident, that is, to us readers, but not the local constabulary personnel department. Kavanagh plays the relationship between the siblings with the touch of a concert violinist. There are all manner of clever nuances and deft little touches which enhance the narrative.
Kavanagh reveals the inner workings of K & R consultants by letting us browse through the files of The Cole Group in between chapters focusing on one or other of the main characters. The police procedural aspect of the novel is sure-footed and convincing, while the touches of domestic noir work well, despite being a well-trodden path. After all, who has ever read a novel where a detective has a blissfully happy marriage with a fully supportive spouse?
The plot twists come, as they should, with only a few pages to go, but by then you will have been totally hooked by the excellent writing, Kavanagh’s well-tuned ear for dialogue, and the authentic setting – that mystical landscape where Western England merges into Wales.