Wounded by the death of his wife and infant daughter from influenza, Scotland Yard Detective Inspector John Madden has physically survived two years of trench warfare during World War I, but the mental scars haunt both his waking activities and his dreams. He and young Detective Constable Billy Styles are sent to investigate the brutal murder of a family at Melling Lodge, in the English countryside about an hour's drive south of London, in the summer of 1921. They find a scene of such violence and cruelty that Madden immediately suspects that this is the work of a crazed individual.
Working closely with the Yard's Chief Inspector Angus Sinclair, a sharp and natilly-attired Scotsman from Aberdeen whose consonants are "as precise as cut glass," Madden doggedly sifts through every scrap of evidence produced by an exhaustive round of interviews of the nearby village's residents, conducted by a squad of police officers lead by Sinclair. Fending off a hostile superior officer at the Yard who has a proclivity for leaking information to the press, Madden and Sinclair reach for a method to understand the relationship, if any, between the killer and his victims. Madden has cause to enlist the help of the village's doctor, the beautiful Helen Blackwell, who herself lost both her brothers and her husband to the war. Blackwell introduces Madden to a family friend, Dr. Franz Weiss, a Vienna psychotherapist on lecture tour in Britain.
Slipping outside the strict orders of his superiors, Madden arranges to meet with Weiss and describe in detail the murders, hoping to gain some palpable "lead" from the therapist's knowledge of criminal pathologies. Weiss does indeed provide Madden with the clues which enable him to refine and redirect his investigation: When Madden interprets Weiss to say that this killer will not stop, Weiss replies that this is not his meaning -- in Weiss's view, the killer "cannot stop killing."
Consequently, Madden requests the British military's help in sifting through their criminal records of the war. But the military is slow to respond, and Madden and Sinclair must race to identify the killer before their jealous Yard superior can contrive to wrest control of the investigation away from them, and before the killer strikes again. A massive search of a woodlands area yields clues which bring the Yard's men closer to their prey, but another round of murders unfolds before their diligence finally results in a fatal confrontation with the killer, in the home of Dr. Blackwell. Almost fatally wounded in the struggle, Madden is saved by the quick action of the village bobby, Will Stackpole, and the determined efforts of Helen Blackwell, with whom Madden has fallen in love. This superb epic concludes with Mr. and Mrs. Madden's making a tour of France, so that he may revisit the battlegrounds.
This report prepared by William S. Solomon