It's 1990 in London and Tom Hargreaves has it all: a burgeoning career as a reporter, fierce ambition and a brisk disregard for the "peasants"—ordinary people, his readers, easy tabloid fodder. His star seems set to rise when he stumbles across a sensational scoop: a dead child on a London estate, grieving parents beloved across the neighborhood, and the finger of suspicion pointing at one reclusive family of Irish immigrants and "bad apples" the Greens. At their heart sits Carmel: beautiful, otherworldly, broken, and once destined for a future beyond her circumstances until life - and love - got in her way. Crushed by failure and surrounded by disappointment, there's nowhere for her to go and no chance of escape. Now, with the police closing in on a suspect and the tabloids hunting their monster, she must confront the secrets and silences that have trapped her family for so many generations.
Nolan begins by embracing the genre’s major tropes (dead child, plucky journalist, family secrets) only to turn their governing logics against them with prosecutorial persistence and precision. This is a murder mystery in which there is little mystery about the murder, a page-turner in which the suspense hinges less on what happened than on how and why certain people become the people to whom such things happen ... Nolan’s prose is clean and exacting, with an almost clinical interest in the power of shame: class shame, sexual shame, national shame, the shame of the addict. It seems to rank high among Nolan’s writerly principles that the cure for shame is honesty, however ugly the truth is ... Nolan’s vision is grim but not hopeless, unflinching yet uncynical.