LONG-TIME residents say that ‘incomers’ moving to Sanday, one of the outermost of the scattered Orkney islands off the north-east corner of Scotland, are generally running away from something. Mike Jones is no exception – so when traces of a human skeleton are unearthed from the soon-to-be vegetable garden behind his partially renovated Sanday house, he finds the police attention it generates rather unnerving.
The discovery is the second mysterious happening at the former school building; in its attic Jones has already found 13 ‘magic flowers’ crafted from deceased children’s clothing.
Orkney detective Erling Flett is one of the first professionals called to the scene, followed shortly thereafter by two forensic experts, Dr Rhona MacLeod and her assistant, and a special investigator, Michael McNab, from big-city Glasgow, a full day’s travelling over land and sea to the south. There, the trio have been looking into the death of an elderly man in his own apartment – a death that now seems to have been much more suspicious than they had at first assumed.
MacLeod has an island connection herself, but not to Orkney; rather, her childhood was spent on the Isle of Skye on the opposite side of Scotland.
As work on the two cases escalates, the team begins to see similarities. Could these apparent homicides – hundreds of kilometres apart and separated by at least half a century in time – actually be linked?
Anderson’s fictitious storyline is accompanied by intimate descriptions of the real-life places and events that make Orkney a unique archipelago of Neolithic structures and World War II relics surrounded by the bitter North Sea between Britain and the islands’ former ruler, Norway: a tiny outpost of proud Viking heritage where Norse names are common and islanders consider themselves to be Orcadians first and foremost rather than Scots or Brits.