The story opens in the summer of 1981
in the garden of a country pub in a place called Avebury in Wiltshire, where
David Umber is having a quiet drink. He
has arranged to meet a man named Griffin,
someone he has never met, who wrote to him promiding to show him something
which will assist in David’s PHD studies on the 18th Century letter
Then everything changes. A young nanny named Sally Wilkinson is taking
a walk with her three charges along the country lane close to the pub, when a
white van appears and the youngest child, two-year-old Tamsin Hall, is bundled
into the back. Her seven-year-old sister
steps out in front in a vain attempt to stop her sister being taken and is
knocked down and killed
With such a terrible tragedy played out
in front of him, David almost forgets that Griffin doesn’t turn up and he never hears
from him again. After the inquest on
Miranda Hall, he forms a bond with the shattered Sally and this commonality
turns into a marriage. Unfortunately,
with time it becomes an unsuccessful one as Sally is haunted by the incident
and her subsequent obsession and depression drives her to commit suicide.
Some time afterwards, a known pedophile confesses to the murder of
Tamsin Hall, claiming he buried her in the woods. The case is closed, although David knows
Sally was never happy with the man’s ‘confession’, but like everyone else, he
attributes her skepticism to guilt.
The Hall family fall apart under the
strain and both parents re-marry, with Tamsin’s mother going on to have another
daughter, while her ex-husband moves to Jersey.
Twenty three years later, David Umber
is living in Prague. His life has become aimless, he never
completed his PHd and now lives alone in Prague
doing part time lecturing work and organized walks round the city for
One day the retired Chief Inspector
George Sharp turns up at David’s modest apartment and shows him a letter he
received signed 'Junius', reproaching him for botching the 1981 investigation. Suspecting Umber of being the author, he
confronts him. George always believed
David’s reason for being in Avebury that day was suspicious and he manipulates
him into returning to England
to find out what really happened to Tamsin Hall.
They set off in the policeman’s
antiquated VW Tourer and at first the responses of the witnesses they confront
lead them in confusing circles or up dead ends.
Then small things begin to come out as someone begins to notice their
interest, someone who would rather the whole Hall tragedy be forgotten.
Unfortunate things start happening to
George Sharp and David, which cannot be coincidental, making them more intent
on finding out the truth. Their mutual
suspicion of each other diminishes, but circumstanced force them to carry on
David begins to ask himself who the
mysterious Mr Griffin was and what happened to him after the Avebury incident. His discoveries lead him to characters involved who apparently played a larger part than could have been imagined.
He goes back to London to talk to Sally’s closest friend, who
still lives in the house where she died.
For the first time David becomes uneasy about his wife’s suicide and the
reasons behind it, and despite the friend’s hostility, he decides it is all
part of the same pattern
The story twists and turns in
fascinating ways, until the reader cannot possibly think there can be a happy
outcome for David or what is left of the Halls.
But everything is slowly revealed and, as always with Robert Goddard’s stories,
falls into place seamlessly so you wondered how you didn’t think of it
before. All questions are answered, all
mysteries solved, even the enigmatic ‘Junius’ finds a place in this story with
an unexpected connection. At the end you
are left hoping the characters who escape from their history will find a niche
in a world which hasn’t exactly treated them well so far.