A killer is strangling young women in Cater Street, leaving their swollen-faced bodies in the dark shadows of this genteel neighbourhood. When the Ellison family's maid becomes the murderer's third victim, young Inspector Thomas Pitt is assigned to the case. He must break through the walls of upper-class society to get at the truth, and his investigation gradually peels away its veneer, exposing secrets and desires until suspicion becomes more frightening than truth.
Outspoken Charlotte Ellison, struggling to remain within the confining expectations of Victorian manners, has no trouble expressing herself to the irritating policeman. As their relationship shifts from antagonism to something more complicated, Thomas and Charlotte must work together to solve the mystery before the Cater Street hangman strikes again.