Robotham proves himself an accomplished writer with each new novel, tapping into the dark recesses of criminal enterprise to reveal the shocking exploitation of desperate couples unable to bear children and helpless young women used as surrogates.
We find Alisha Barba, the Sikh detective from his last novel who was nearly crippled by a back injury while assisting Detective Inspector Vincent Ruiz, finally on the mend after a series of surgeries and extensive physical therapy. The determined Ali, while not officially reassigned, falls into a puzzling case through a request from a high school friend who needs her help.
After years of estrangement, a very pregnant Cate arranges to meet Ali at their reunion, but before Ali can learn the details of her friend’s problem, Cate and her husband are run over by an oncoming taxi, leaving Cate in a coma. With only Cate’s last words to go on - “they want to take my baby” - Ali plunges into an underground nightmare of illegal surrogacy that extends from London to Amsterdam, reaching as far as Afghanistan.
With few clues and much suspicion, Ali enlists the advice of the now-retired Ruiz. The pair is unable to pierce the wall of silence that surrounds Cate’s latest activities, her doctor unwilling and unable to speak, the trail finally leading to Amsterdam where they have no legal authority. Yet Barba is determined to learn the history of Cate’s commitment to motherhood and what terrible danger she brought upon herself.
No strangers to violence, Ali and Ruiz are led through the tenements of Amsterdam, the poorest neighborhoods not seen in tourist brochures, where helpless victims are caught in a monstrous scheme to defraud and even murder innocents in the name of greed. The Netherlands presents a new set of horrors, from the simply corrupt to the casually violent, two helpless women at the heart of a terrifying pursuit that may cost their lives.
Ali reveals her depth of character through her determination, her detective instincts as sharp as ever, the developing relationship with Ruiz founded on mutual respect and the broken friendship with Cate sundered by Ali’s foolish entanglement with an inappropriate older man.
Ever creative in his depiction of criminal inventiveness, Robotham delivers a compassionate portrait of the disenfranchised, trapped by their desperation, at the mercy of those who would exploit them: “In Afghanistan we sleep with the thorns and not the flowers.”
In the course of their travels, Ali and Ruiz are attacked, beaten and bloodied but remain steadfast to the end, committed to Cate’s legacy in spite of the consequences. With Ruiz as her rock, Ali proves herself a fearless detective and a loyal friend.