This is by far the most ambitious of the Tess Monaghan books so far, and I think it might be the longest. Tess is hired by a non-profit advocacy group to research homicides around the state looking for police inconsistencies and errors that might have led to unsolved murders. They are especially looking for situations in which domestic violence was ruled out, never considered, or dismissed in order to effect changes to Maryland law. Tess is especially earnest for this work because we start the novel out with her and Whitney, her rich college friend (who is on the board of the nonprofit) are tracking an online sexual predator (or perhaps would-be) who talked to Tess as she pretended to be a 16 year old girl. They are meeting out in a bar when as he goes the bathroom Tess finds roofies in his jacket, spikes his drink, and douses him with Nair and kicks him in the ribs. After an allergic reaction to the Nair, she drops him off at a hospital, but through a moment of foolishness she had given him her real name and she is arrested. Pleading down to a misdemeanor, she is given initially community service, but that changes to anger management counseling.
So the novel then proceeds to follow Tess’s anger management and the investigation of the deaths, only to find that while they don’t point toward domestic violence, they do point to connections with a serial killer. The novel goes from there. Tess teams up with a former toll booth cop/obsessive amateur detective, travels all over the state, and spends a lot of time in the islands of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia. Like I said, it’s the most ambitious, and it ties together a lot of different things that are connected to Virginia and Maryland in satisfying ways. It’s important to remember that Maryland is small, so Tess having to make all the drives in a single day helps to make use of the space in the state. There’s also some significant and satisfying callbacks to previous novels.