Covering similar territory to his previous police procedural No Trace, Barry Maitland's Spider Trap unfurls deep within the chilly environs of inner London.
Much of the action centers in the alleyways and backyards of Cockpit Lane and its lively and colorful street market, where the
city's poor immigrant West Indian community live and work.
Here DCI David Brock and DS Kathy Kolla of Scotland Yard's Serious Crimes Branch are called upon to investigate the brutal murder of two young women, the cause of death a single gunshot to the head of each girl. Even more sinister is the discovery by a local schoolboy of the skeletons of three young adult black males, all executed in the same horrific way, all in their twenties and all lying perhaps for years in the same area.
Detective Inspector Tom Reeves is loaned out from the local Special Branch unit and goes undercover to help Brock and Kolla gather the necessary evidence, his valuable skills seen as an essential ingredient in cracking the case. Even from the preliminary surveillance of the crime scene, it is clear that, like the two girls, at least two of the boys were shot in the head. The problem is that no one has any idea who they were, and there are no missing persons that seem to fit the profile.
The clues pile up and the investigation twists and shifts to arrive at the answer that Brock already knows applies both to Cockpit Lane and to himself. Many of the answers are hidden in the events of 1981 and the Brixton race riots, when Brock was just a rookie cop and where the arrest of a black man led hundred of youths to go on a rampage throughout the streets of South London, hurling petrol bombs at police, burning cars and looting shops in an outbreak of violence that lasted all night.
Soon enough, everyone realizes that something equally terrible happened on that cool April night back in 1981, and for years nobody has known. Tom is sure that the murders of the three black boys are reminiscent of a "Yardie" killing, a group that is an offshoot of the West Indian gangs who immigrated to the UK in the early
'80s, bringing their guns and their cocaine, and their old rivalries.
While Brock tries to trace the cases back to the events that led to the Brixton riots, Kathy and Tom try to make progress in unraveling who may have been responsible for the killings of the two girls. When traces of semen are found in one of the girl's mouths, it looks as though the case is solved, especially when they get a DNA sample that matches the profile of local bad boy Teddy Vexx.
The current big shot of the neighborhood, Vexx is part owner of the local Jamaica Omnibus Club and has long been suspected of selling drugs and maybe even running a crack laboratory from his other businesses in the area. There is, however, a far more sinister suspect who raises his ugly head in the form of Edward "Spider" Roach. Roach, now a wealthy and respectable businessman, was once a powerful underworld figure, his gang holding an iron grip on this part of London.
If Roach is somehow connected to both crimes, how could he suddenly return to his same old haunts and repeat his actions in almost the same place? More central to the mystery is how a wealthy and respectable older man
could be physically involved in the murder of two kids. Also, what role does local member of
Parliament Michael Grant play in all this? Grant is convinced that the Roaches are still operating in partnership with local black gangs, but is Grant really all that he appears to be?
Author Barry Maitland delves deep into the rarified inner London world of guns, drugs, and oral rapists as he builds a subtle kind of suspense that gradually moves back in time to that dark night in 1981. It is here, with his memories unfolding, that Brock must deal with his feelings for Cockpit Lane, and as the case unfolds he finds himself blindsided by the intensity of the memories it evokes, these powerful feelings he long ago thought were locked up tight.
When both murder inquiries approach a turning point, the evidence begins to swing Brock and Kolla's random searching into more deliberate directions. The author's foreshadowing of a violent act provides the climax to the story as he peels away the layers of duplicity of organized crime and how it has been masquerading as legitimate British businesses. In the end, this suspenseful, atmospheric novel delves deep into the dark underworld of inner London and reveals a chilling landscape of long-buried memories and old scores that are just aching to be settled.