Giving a pre-schooler an unwanted digital camera and letting her take photos on a picnic in a tourists’ spot on the Isle of Wight seems harmless. But she takes a photo of a killer who only has four cartridges in his shotgun: one for the pre-schooler, one for her mother, one for her eighteen-month-old brother and one for their dad. That this leaves the killer without a shot for his intended victim isn’t a problem until Doctor Karen Taylor turns up.
Young widow and forensic psychologist Karen Taylor camps in her family-owned chalet on the island where she’s come to interview Spike Falconer as part of her study into Dangerous Severe Personality Disorder. Spike, convicted of the murder of the picnicking family, was adopted as a toddler by the wealthy Falconers who are reluctant to talk about their adoptive son, or, at least, Colonel Falconer is, Karen believes that his wife may be persuaded to talk if only she could be separated from her domineering husband. The Falconers adopted because Mrs Falconer seemed unable to have children, but she fell pregnant naturally shortly after Spike comes to live with him, giving him a brother, Silas, two years younger than him, who is now a “successful city type” working in finance and earning more than enough to wear designer labels and drive a high-performance Porsche. Dr Taylor finds her interviews with Spike puzzling as either he has an a-typical variant of the disorder or he doesn’t have it at all.
Apparently having overpowered a prison guard, that Colonel Falconer was privately paying to keep his adoptive son secure and who Spike accused of spying on the Colonel’s behalf, Spike escapes from Parkhurst Prison. Dr Taylor gets a phone call requesting her presence at a potential hostage situation: a three-year-old girl has been tied up in full view of a window on the first floor of a house and the police don’t know if the abductors are nearby. Rescuing the girl, Dr Taylor makes herself unpopular with the police for messing up their crime scene. Spike is later recaptured, but Dr Taylor finds herself being dragged in for a police interview about her part in his escape.
Of course, she had no part in his escape, but, having stirred up a hornets’ nest, Dr Taylor sets about pacifying the hornets. There’s a lot of smoke and some of the hornets don’t seem to be sure whether they should be attacking their queen or the intruders and appear to change sides. There are also powerful interests at work in ensuring Dr Taylor doesn’t get her answers. Theories are fine for psychologists, but police need evidence that can be taken to court and Dr Taylor must not only consolidate and prove her theory but deliver evidence or at least a confession from the real killer to satisfy the police.
N J Cooper has skilfully created a labyrinthine psychological thriller that satisfyingly keeps the pace and tension all the way to the credible conclusion. She focuses on the characters and their relationships, unobtrusively bringing in Dr Karen Taylor’s training and knowledge as real, solid background rather than something her character happens to do because the story needed a lead with access to the police who wasn’t governed by police procedures and paperwork. Dr Karen Taylor has a personal life too but that takes place in the periphery of the story and is seamlessly fed in around the main plot. A polished performance and I hope to meet Dr Taylor again.