The body is discovered in a disused burial ground. A young woman, ritualistically mutilated, her eyes and mouth crudely sewn shut. Her boyfriend is arrested and charged with the murder. He might have a vicious temper and a history of violence towards women, but is Michael Nell really a killer? Michael's lawyer doesn't think so. She's hired Joe Donovan to prove his alibi.
Donovan's investigations lead him into the murky world of people trafficking and prostitution. But when the second body shows up, he realises it's not just local gangsters he's up against - but a deranged serial killer. A killer obsessed with the city's dark history. A killer who leaves clues pointing to his twisted plan. And if Donovan and his team can't decipher those messages in time, a killer who will kill again...
Characters struggle, sometimes heroically, against their compulsions and addictions in Waites's messy sequel to The Mercy Seat (2006). Journalist Joe Donovan's life fell apart after his six-year-old son vanished years ago, but now he's put together a substitute family of soiled misfits who want to learn how to trust and depend on each other while saving vulnerable people from exploitation. Besides going after a Serbian war criminal who's reinvented himself as a British vice lord, Donovan and his team become involved in the hunt for a sadistic serial killer who preys on young women. Along the way, they explore Newcastle's slums, where eastern European girls are a disposable commodity. What many of Waites's characters really want is proof that they're more than animals, mere bone machines. Even the lunatic who tortures girls to death is trying to prove that the voices in his head are real and that there is life beyond death. Watching these competing, terribly driven people is often unpleasant but also compelling, as readers are kept unsure whether the ones they care about can survive as human beings or not.