BARELY have the remains of Shetland native Magnus Tait been lowered into their grave when the soil beneath the party of mourners begins to shudder. Heavy winter rain has destabilised the hillside, prompting a sizeable slab of earth to slither across open sheep-grazing pasture and into the slate-grey North Sea, sweeping with it several headstones and a significant swathe of the island’s main highway.
Elderly loner Magnus’s body is not the only one caught up in the landslide, however; as the clean-up begins, in a supposedly vacant farm cottage facing onto the remote cemetery, a second person is found. It soon becomes clear that the victim did not die in the subsidence.
Responsibility for driving the investigation into the unidentified woman’s death falls to homegrown Shetland detective Jimmy Perez.
Perez is himself still grieving the all-too-recent loss of his fiancée, Fran, an artist whose young daughter Cassie is now in his care.
Juggling the needs of a primary-school-aged child with the demands of small-town policing is challenging, not least when leads in a stranger’s apparent murder are frustratingly sparse.
Seeking an unbiased outside perspective, Perez calls in Willow Reeves, a fellow law-enforcer from Scotland’s Western Isles. Chief Inspector Reeves is familiar with the archipelago’s windswept coastline, tight-knit community-centric culture and deep-rooted Scandinavian heritage, having collaborated with Perez on a previous case.
The family living closest to the site, Kevin and Jane Hay and their two teenaged sons, claim not to have known the next-door house was occupied.
Enquiries further afield – including in the capital, Lerwick, awash with oilfield proceeds – also yield disappointingly few clues, despite the suspicion that high-profile solicitor and aging playboy Tom Rogerson is somehow involved.
As Perez and Reeves probe ever-deeper into Shetland’s shadowy underbelly, will their questioning lead to the killer’s quick and safe apprehension or drive an already-desperate assailant to commit further crimes?