When a teenage couple are found murdered in their car, a boy called Adam Sligo is the only suspect. Sligo is missing, and a manhunt begins, but the letter A is found blazoned on the wall at the murder scene. When the other letters of the alphabet start appearing in sequence all over town, each immaculately painted in red, a seemingly random act of violence appears to be part of a bigger and more terrifying picture. For the town's inhabitants, it feels like the beginning of a new age of terror, with Adam Sligo still on the loose. What do the letters mean? Is he playing games with the police? Or putting a spell on the town? One man, Perry Scholes, is mixed up in all this from the start: a man haunted by cars and death - and photographic images of both. He trawls the motorways and edgelands listening to police radio so that he can get to the car-crash or the crime scene before the police. Like his hero Weegee - the original ambulance-chaser photographer - he makes a living selling these shots to the papers. He always gets there first - he was the one to find the old BMW with its young corpses; he is the one who spots the painted letters, and begins to document their appearances.
As the town is paralysed by fear and paranoia - its inhabitants polarising into a new-age group that gather around a shrine to the murdered couple and a vigilante cult that arm themselves for the battle against evil - Perry finds himself trapped in a nightmare. A killer is at large, and the alphabetical messages he leaves seem to be personal messages for Perry. Who is leaving them, and why, is the centre of this dark, disturbing parable of urban anxiety and primitive fear.
Michael Symmons Roberts has published four collections of poetry, including Burning Babylon, which was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize, and Corpus, which won the 2004 Whitbread Poetry Award. He is a frequent collaborator with the composer James MacMillan and is also an award-winning radio writer and documentary film-maker.