Finn McQuaid is a very successful young man, in his late twenties, when he meets Layla, an 18 year old young woman who has run away from home. It is New Year’s Eve in London, in the year 2004, when he stumbles upon her. She asks him if he could direct her to a hostel; he realizes that she will not find an accommodation at such a time, and he takes her to the apartment he shares with his friend Harry. Although involved with another woman, he becomes totally smitten by this girl who seems naïve and innocent. She stays with him briefly and then leaves, although he asks her to stay. He hopes she will return, but does not expect her to do so.
Thirteen months later, they are on holiday in France. On their way back to Paris, from Megève, they stop at a remote lavatory. Finn goes inside while Layla remains in the car. When he returns, she is no longer in the car. She always carried the tiniest doll from a set of Russian nesting dolls, as a sort of amulet, and he found it on the ground, adjacent to the car. It leads him to believe that she was dragged away. The police also suspected foul play, but they suspected Finn. They held him for a time, but they had to release him because of a lack of evidence.
Finn goes through, and finally recovers from, a long bout of depression. He has some anger management problems which his friend Harry helps him deal with and, hopefully, overcome. When Layla’s older sister Ellen holds a memorial service for her, Finn and Harry attend. Ellen has now lost her sister, her mother and her father. Harry feels compassion for her and often invites her over to visit them. Because she is around so much, a relationship blooms between Finn and Ellen. They seem content and very much in love. They are soon to be married, and the fact that she was Layla’s sister raises some eyebrows.
Suddenly, though, now12 years later, Layla seems to have resurfaced. A former neighbor, from St. Mary’s, where he used to live with Layla, believes he saw her standing in front of the cottage she and Finn once shared. Because of his age, 92, and the passage of time, his account is doubted. Soon, though, when little Russian nesting dolls suddenly appear in odd places, waiting to be discovered, even more questions arise. Very few people knew that Ellen and Layla, as children, had both had a set of nesting dolls. When one of Ellen’s had disappeared, she had accused Layla of taking it, but Layla had denied it. Now that tiny doll, and others like it, have reappeared.
When Finn begins to get strange emails from someone who seems to be hinting that Layla is alive, he begins to wonder if it could be true. Could she still be alive after all this time? Was she trying to contact him or was it her abductor? Should he call the police? Was someone deliberately taunting him, and if so, why? Did he still love her? As more identical Russian nesting dolls are found in odd places, he grows more and more alarmed. As the mystery deepens, he wonders if they are trying to torment Ellen. Who else knew the story of the nesting dolls? For some reason, although the situation grows more upsetting, Finn does not want to tell Ellen about the dolls he finds. He keeps many secrets from Ellen and his friends. What is Finn afraid of?
The diabolical plan, that slowly unfolds, sometimes stretches the imagination, but the reader will keep guessing until the end; even when readers thinks they have all the answers, there will still be more to discover. Finn is torn between the two women he loves, one from his past and one from his present. As his thoughts return to Layla, he questions his love for Ellen. Which sister did he really love more? Did he really know them? Whom would he choose?
Because Finn seemed to conveniently make up excuses and ignore the clues presented, I found the narrative lacked the precision of his other books. Still, it was a good read, even though, perhaps, not her best.