Having wrapped up their last case Detective Inspector Kim Stone and her team, from the West Midlands region of England, are sent to look at Westerley Research Facility. This 'body farm' has corpses strewn around to study decomposition in different conditions (wet, dry, buried, unburied, etc.); insect and animal activity on the bodies; rotting of burned bodies; and so on.
While being shown around the facility, Stone discovers a body that's not supposed to be there - a recently murdered woman with a mouth full of dirt and a smashed face. An autopsy reveals that the woman was held captive before her death - one wrist has handcuff marks and her body has stripy red bruises on the stomach and legs. The woman is identified as Jemima Lowe, a seemingly nice, thirtyish woman from a good family.
Before long another body shows up at Westerley, but this one isn't quite dead. The victim has dirt in her mouth, a bashed skull, and the same marks as Jemima. It seems a serial killer is at work here, who was interrupted during this latter attempted murder. The unidentified victim is in a coma, but her boyfriend shows up and says she's Isobel Jones who's estranged from her husband and dating him. The woman eventually wakes up - but she has amnesia, doesn't even know her name, and can't assist the detectives.
Becoming suspicious about Westerley being used as a body dump, Stone sends in radar experts and anthropologists to search for buried bodies. The anthropologists - mouthy 'Dr. A' and attractive Dr. Daniel Bate (with whom Stone has unwanted sparks) - add a little fun to the book. It's also a treat to watch feisty Stone and her colleagues, DS Bryant, DS Dawson, and data-mining expert DC Stacey Wood exchange friendly quips and digs.
While all this is going on a local reporter, Tracy Frost - who's generally a thorn in Stone's side - persuades the detective to look into an unsolved case: the death of an unidentified man several years ago. Later on, Stone makes a deal with Frost, who agrees to keep mum about an aspect of the Westerley case. And then Tracy Frost disappears! What's going on? Can Tracy be in the murderer's clutches?
The story alternates between the detectives' investigation and the POV of the murderer, who sometimes recalls scenes from childhood and sometimes creepily interacts with abducted victims. The police query moves along at a steady clip and leads to a surprising and satisfying solution during which Stone must fight for her life.
I enjoyed the book, which is a suspenseful page turner with interesting characters, though some are more fleshed out than others. I especially liked DI Stone, a woman with a troubled past who knows her mind and doesn't take guff from anyone. I always like cute pet characters and got a kick out of Stone's dog Barney, who's adept at 'herding' her to the kitchen to fill his food bowl.
I do have a problem with the book, which (in my opinion) has a major flaw in the plot. Rigorous police work and thorough computer searches (I'm looking at you Stacey Wood) would have IMMEDIATELY exposed someone's big lies and a significant connection between two characters. This would have revealed the culprit much sooner. It may be necessary to fudge things a bit for plot purposes, but in real life this would seem like bungling - and it bothered me.
Nevertheless, this is an engaging mystery, recommended to fans of the genre.
Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for a copy of this book.
Rating: 3.5 stars