Adjusting to an isolated life in Cornwall, his attachments pared down to the bare necessities, retired Detective Inspector Frank Elder has good reason to retreat: his marriage is in shambles after his sixteen-year-old daughter, Katherine, was abducted, raped and almost killed the year before. After Katherine’s nightmarish ordeal, the spouses’ mutual recriminations poison any chance for the marriage to succeed, Frank’s relationship with his daughter deteriorating as well.
Finding comfort in the solitude of Cornwall, Frank makes peace with his changed environment - until he receives a phone call from ex-wife, Joanne, informing him that Katherine has been acting out, no doubt in reaction to her traumatic experience. Although his daughter has refused contact with him for the last few months, Frank volunteers to return to London and see what he can do.
Meanwhile, in the heart of London, Detective Maddy Birch becomes a central figure in arresting James William Grant, a dangerous criminal long on the department radar. As Maddy stands before him, weaponless, Grant is killed by another officer, although the circumstances of the shooting are suspect.
After that ordeal, Maddy’s instincts remain on high alert, giving off warning signals and a vague sense of threat that follows her even into the safe retreat of her home. Birch is a pro, not given to hysteria, so this unusual discomfort is unsettling. As Detective Birch becomes even more convinced that someone is following her, her best friend, another officer, persuades Maddy that she is simply suffering a case of nerves since Grant’s killing.
After discreetly following his intractable daughter, Frank returns to Cornwall only to receive another jarring phone call - this one from the department, a chilling report that draws him out of retirement and back to the job he left behind. In London, Elder is assigned to Detective Chief Inspector Karen Shields, who grudgingly accepts the services offered by the seasoned veteran, on the trail of a rapist who has recently evolved from fantasy to action.
The detectives are thorough in their research but plagued by doubts, and Elder remains intrigued by the suspicions that surround Grant’s killing. Further complicating Elder’s now-busy schedule, his daughter runs afoul of the law, her rebellion drawing Frank closer in an effort to help his damaged child.
The attraction between Elder and Shields, who is black, adds spice to the story line, their quirky relationship injecting an element of humor into a police procedural. Karen Shields is the perfect antidote for this man, a professional woman who is refreshingly candid. A sexual predator, dirty cops and a sting combine to make Elder’s return a success, Frank attaining a level of rapprochement with the troubled Katherine, his recent misfortune greatly alleviated by Karen Shields’ excellent police work and refusal to take him too seriously.