When Amber Hewerdine decides to consult a hypnotherapist for her insomnia, something unexpected happens. She blurts out a phrase that is puzzling her because she has seen it somewhere and doesn’t know what it means, “Kind, Cruel, Kind of Cruel.” Then she realizes she saw it written on a pad that one of the other clients was writing on in her car before her session.
She knows she has seen it before that. When she asks the woman if she can see it, the other woman denies having it on her pad. So, after the woman goes in to consult with the therapist, Amber gets into her car to look at the pad.
What Amber doesn’t realize is that the phrase is a clue in a murder. Detective Constable Charlie Zailer is the other client, and even though she is not on the case, she has been mulling over the phrase. But it was impossible for Amber to have seen the entire phrase on Charlie’s pad, because she had only written “Kind, Cruel” before Amber interrupted her.
The case where the phrase was discovered was the bludgeoning death of Katherine Allen in her own home, now being investigated by Charlie’s husband Simon Waterhouse. Amber didn’t know Katherine. She believes the phrase is somehow linked to a Christmas event several years before, when her sister-in-law Jo and her family disappeared for two days after inviting the entire extended family to stay at a house they had leased. Amber thinks maybe she saw the phrase in a locked room in that house. No one ever spoke about why part of the family disappeared, and Amber has always been curious.
Amber’s insomnia started after her best friend was killed in a fire. After the fire, Amber and her husband Luke took in her friend’s two daughters. Amber loves the girls but hasn’t slept much since the fire.
Sophie Hannah writes compelling psychological thrillers. Amber’s narrative is interrupted by that of Waterhouse, the detective whom Amber agrees to speak to, as well as that of Ginny Saxon, the therapist. Hannah’s plots are complicated and always interesting to unravel.