James writes a solid police procedural set in Brighton, England, that eventually leads to the mob in New York. The thriller is enhanced by the myriad details of criminal investigation and the grinding but thorough bureaucracy that leads to resolution, amply peppered with personalities to add the human dimension, a touch that renders the novel both crime fiction and drama.
Beyond the obvious statistics of law enforcement, James mines the lives of those involved in the story, from the private lives of police officers working with detective Superintendent Roy Grace to the unfortunate characters thrown randomly together in a tragic accident on a rainy morning. When Tony Revere, a student rushing to class, is caught under the wheels of a lorry that cannot stop in time to avoid him, another vehicle takes evasive action, crashing into a building. A third vehicle—a white van—races from the scene, lost in the mist. The twenty-one-year-old student’s life is extinguished on the muddy street.
Many factors contribute to the fatalit: the rain, the tail-gating van, a single mother distracted by a ringing cell phone, already nervous about missing an appointment. Carly Chase avoids striking Revere, her car the worse for her last-minute avoidance with the boy, leaving the oncoming lorry with the carnage. The real culprit, the driver of the van, vanishes without a trace. As far as the police can ascertain, the fated encounter is an accident. That’s the way DS Grace approaches his report, although he is soon informed that the parents of the dead boy are prominent members of a New York crime family. Suddenly events take a more sinister turn: first the driver of the white van is gruesomely—and painfully—murdered. Rhen the lorry driver is killed in yet another bizarre tableau, the killer obviously relishing his role as executioner.
Adapting the focus of his team to changing events, Grace is now concerned with the possibility of an assassin, one paid by Raven’s grieving parents to exact revenge on those responsible for the boy’s death. In that case, the widowed single mother, Carly Chase, is the only one still to be held accountable. Carly has lost her license after failing a breathalyzer test, taking public transportation to and from her employment since the accident. Living with her young son in reduced circumstances since the death of her husband, Carly has had about all the bad luck she can handle. She reacts badly to the two officers who appear at her door informing her that her life might be in danger.
The result of the new threat is a skillfully orchestrated cat-and-mouse chase alternating the perspective of a determined DS Grace—whose wife is at the end of a dangerous pregnancy—manipulating the intricate gears of law enforcement with that of an elusive killer-for-hire who unexpectedly raises the stakes with a move that throws the city into a full-scale alert. James stays on top of his plot and the coordinated activities of the police department, the well-intentioned but misguided Carly, the escalating craziness of those who would reach across the continent for revenge, and a cold-blooded killer with no ties to the community or his victims and a thorough knowledge of law enforcement techniques.
Although the accident victim’s parents are awfully New York-mob stereotypical, more old-school than present-day, the assassin is chilling in his indifference, Carly and her family at risk in more ways than she can imagine in this cliffhanger.