When a colleague becomes seriously ill, chief superintendent frances harman has to delay her impending retirement to oversee an investigation into a recent spate of 'happy slappings' and minor assaults in the kent area. Initially, she begrudgingly takes a back seat in the case, but it is not long before she is once again perilously close to the action. The wave of assaults has ignited a media furor and fran is concerned that an unnecessary atmosphere of mass hysteria is being generated in the area. She soon finds herself having to spend as much time trying to control the media as trying to catch the criminals. However, the local reporter that initially broke the story, dilly pound, may have personal reasons for taking such an avid interest in the case. As the crimes gradually escalate and the line between 'happy slapping' and serious sexual assault becomes blurred, all mention of retirement is postponed until fran can resolve the nightmare that has enveloped around her.
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