Women in a beach community and surrounding areas in Devon are being targeted by a sick individual.
When they have been captured they are stripped.
When they have been stripped they are told to make a phone call.... to their mother.
When they make the phone call... they are told to say goodbye.
When they say goodbye... their mother's watch.
Who suffers the most in this game of murder, the victim or the mother left behind?
Whilst this is happening, a young girl Ruby Trick is struggling with her own battles, she is being bullied on the bus to school, she is being bullied at school. She lives in such a small community that she has only four other children to play with. Ruby cannot play in certain places, not just because of this sick individual who seems to be prowling the area but because part of the cliff face where they live is dying. It is being swept away by the weather and by the sea.
For Ruby there is no solace at home, the house has leaks and drafts which are ignored by her jobless father who seems to spend his time dressing up as a Cowboy to join a local cowboy club and a mother who works every hour she possibly can whilst trying to bring up Ruby in better circumstances and better choices than her husband is showing Ruby. The arguments between the parents seem to be reaching breaking point, similar to the eroding of the landscape around them. Every storm breaks away a little bit more of the marriage. But for Ruby, her dad is the best and he doesn't seem to mind the extra chocolate or biscuits that she eats, as long as Ruby helps feed this Cowboy obsession and Ruby can be his deputy and they can try and catch the killer together.
The book starts by placing the building blocks of the characters and the community. You immediately get a sense of a community which is no longer on the map, it has been left behind for some reason to decay and destroy itself. The feeling of damp seeps off the page as Bauer describes the home that Ruby lives in and the surrounding area. The incessant weather is something which you think you would tire of living with and move away, but it is somehow pulling them all together to stay in this one place.
The characters also seem to have been forgotten and are destroying themselves and decaying in a place where it seems that sun never shines. This does make the characters in any way weak, they fact they have been well-formed and you can feel empathy and sympathy with them in equal measure. Ruby's childish innocence, to the rather weak police detective, escaping something he has become caught in and the isolated teacher Miss Sharpe, who sees something in Ruby that she recognises. To me it was if the surroundings had sucked the life out of these characters and there was no hope for them, which is one of the reasons I had to keep on reading of course, the book got under my skin.
This is a bleak thriller but that does not make it depressing, far from it. Bauer creates a twist and a turn, and in amongst all this desolation there is the murders that need to be solved, it is very different to her previous novels. For me it had a du Maurier-esque romance about it, for some reason I thought of Jamaica Inn, which no doubt was down to the descriptive landscape which made it all come alive from the page. It is a very different sort of book and not your conventional thriller or serial killer novel and because it did not fit a nice pigeon hole is the reason I really enjoyed the book.