Elizabeth Kennedy, a former policewoman, lives in the belfry of a London church. Her room-mates are eight ancient bells suspended on rotten wooden frames, and a clock that stands perpetually at ten to three. By the end of the novel its hands stand at ten to four, and Elizabeth has endured a typically Fyfield-esque ordeal of darkness, danger and despair.

Elizabeth's mother, Diana, runs a bed-and-breakfast establishment in the Devon town of Bovey, where we meet Elizabeth recovering from a seemingly motiveless acid attack outside a pub in which she has been drowning her sorrows. Disfigurement from the acid aside, she has plenty of sorrows to drown. Her sister Emma was kicked to death, leaving an eight-year-old son who is now heavily dependent on her. Diana cares only for the upkeep of the faded family home. And the paying guests, especially the persistent Caroline Smythe, are a constant irritation.

Before long two friends arrive to rescue Elizabeth, and plunge her into a far worse nightmare. Back in the belfry an interloper has taken up residence: freelance photographer Joe. Unknown to Elizabeth, he has arrived at the behest of Jenkins, who is also an ex-policeman and was involved in the abortive prosecution of the man Elizabeth believed had killed her sister.

Her belief was so strong, it took her beyond the bounds of acceptable - or even legal - behaviour. She entrapped sexual fantasist Jack into revealing his unusual proclivities. Later, Jack committed suicide. His death is on her and on Jenkins's heads.

Elizabeth's friends, in common with several of Joe's old mates, are in the market for improvements to their love lives. Which is where the Select Dating Agency, run by the sinister Caroline Smythe, comes in. And so does her son, a handsome personification of evil.

Soon there are more deaths, and Elizabeth is forced to admit that Emma's murderer is still alive, and still killing.

No prizes for detecting who is the villain of this dark piece. Fyfield's achievement is to keep you guessing on other scores.

The bells in the rotting belfry preside over a bloody finale that frees Elizabeth from the horrors of her past. En route there are other pleasures for Fyfield fans, not the least her rich evocation of place, and characters who are reassuringly fallible.