On a bitterly cold night just before Christmas, a 15-year-old girl gives birth in a dark doorway and leaves the baby girl wrapped in her coat on the steps of a church. Later that day, a competitive teen cyclist is kidnapped while repairing a flat tire on the side of the road. And just a few moments earlier, a 12-year-old girl in the same neighborhood is snatched off the street while walking home from a friend’s house. Which means Jack Rutherford’s 1999 will end frantically as he and his colleagues in Croyton do their utmost to save the innocent and lock up the guilty in the fifth of the Jack Rutherford and Amanda Lacey mysteries.
This story features Jack solo, as future partner Amanda is still a schoolgirl, and includes his supportive wife Janine, who passed away before the series began in 2017. Croyton is besieged by a series of kidnappings, all young women in their early to mid-teens, and the police believe they’ve been taken to satisfy the lusts of men who prefer girls as sexual partners.
Disinterested supervisors leave DI Rutherford in charge of the case. During his investigation, he uncovers crimes that shock him to his core and falls in love with the tiny baby left at the church, who the nurses at the hospital have named Mary, in honor of the season.
Although he’s dealt with the homeless before, this sprawling case takes him deep into the world of adolescents kicked out of their houses by parents who view their children as burdens who have to pay their own freight, often in sick ways, only to be tossed out when they’re no longer useful to the adults who should be protecting them. Alongside that subculture is a domain filled with pedophiles who take advantage of the services providing by the pimping parents and churn the young victims into the world of international sex trafficking.
Linda Coles deftly toggles back and forth between clashing universes filled with authentically troubling adults, teenagers struggling on the streets, and beloved daughters who are swept against their will into a sordid world they’ve never imagined. She trusts her readers to follow a story without spelling out every detail and focuses on the one-two punch to the reader’s conscience, as well as thorough insight into the workings, both functional and dysfunctional, of a London suburb’s police department at the end of the 20th century.