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By Reginald Hill

Avon Books, 2004 (Paperback)
ISBN-13 978-0-06-052808-9
ISBN-10 0-06-052808-7

Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel

The story begins in 1991. The First Gulf War ended a few weeks before, and a young Iraqi boy is scavenging in the ruins of a factory. He spots the plastic-wrapped body of a black woman inside a broken crate, shortly before he discovers the unexploded bomb that sends him running to the safety of the Euphrates. The building and all its contents are blown to bits. How this ties into the story of a dysfunctional Yorkshire family is gradually revealed in the intricate, convoluted plot.

Fast forward to March 20, 2002, the last day of Pal Maciver's life. His body is discovered in his locked study, with an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel, an old friend of the decedent's stepmother, Kay Kafka, declares it an open-and-shut case of suicide. His assistant Peter Pascoe is not as convinced. One thing in particular disturbs Pascoe: Maciver's father died in an almost identical way ten years ago. That death, too, was declared a suicide, and "Fat Andy" was the chief investigating officer. Pascoe grows more uneasy as Dalziel seems determined to make him drop the matter. Is Andy letting his personal feelings get in the way of solving a crime?

There are other coincidences in the story. Maciver's sister Cressida is a friend of Pascoe's wife Ellie, who sometimes, after a few drinks, wants to be more than her friend. In an almost dream-like sequence, Detective Constable "Hat" Bowler, still on leave and trying to deal with the loss of his sweetheart, wanders into the forest and finds a fairy tale witch in a gingerbread cottage. She invites him in for bread and jam, and turns out to be a perfectly nice old lady in a thatched cottage who loves birds and happens to be the eccentric aunt of the Maciver family.

The Maciver family has many secrets, but they are not the only ones. Deceptions abound, and the safety of not just a few, but millions, are at stake if the truth is not uncovered.

I didn't really like any of the Macivers with the exception of the youngest, Helen, and the old auntie, and I didn't much care what happened to them. I did care about Fat Andy and Pascoe and the troubled young Hat, and I had fun trying to sort out all the tangled threads of the plot. The story is up to Hill's fine standards, and I highly recommend it.

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