Detective Chief Inspector Lorimer and his team, part of the Glasgow police force, are called in to investigate the death of a prostitute, whose body was found at the train station with a flower between her hands. Rapidly running into a dead end, the case is rudely awakened when Kirsty MacLeod, a nurse at a local care home, is found dead in a similar manner. Following any lead that he can in a case that frustratingly runs into dead ends, Lorimer and his sidekick, a psychological profiler called Solomon Brightman, travel to Harris, one of the Hebridean Islands in the north, not only because the dead nurse comes from the island, but to interview two patients who have abruptly been sent there on "respite leave" the day after the murder. The interview with the dead girl's Aunty Mhairi, the depiction of life on the remote island, and the uncovering of Kirsty's brief, poignant life, are by far the most moving and successful parts of this book.
Back in Glasgow, Lorimer struggles to make any sense of the investigation, as yet another nurse is killed and the witnesses seem unable or unprepared to help, including the reticent manageress of the care home. At the same time, Lorimer's wife Maggie, increasingly frustrated at her empty marriage to a man who is never home, plans a year's teaching exchange in America.
Although I enjoyed this book, I felt that the police procedural aspects were quite weak on occasion. Lorimer is an interesting character, but he seems to spend most of his time with the profiler, rather than his police colleagues, in trying to solve the case – in the process, missing quite a few promising avenues. Divine Lipinski, a stimulating and unusual visitor from the Florida FBI who arrives at the start of the book, fades away and is not developed. The identity of the murderer is also evident right from the start, so for me it was a question of how the plot would all tie in together, rather than who did it. There is an interesting twist in the tail of the case, and the story and character of Phyllis, a woman with multiple sclerosis, is a highlight, as well as Phyllis's role in the eventual capturing of the villain. But the book is not helped by the expectations placed on it by the jacket blurb comparing Lorimer to Inspector Rebus (because they are both Scottish, one presumes): this series needs time to mature before these kinds of comparison can be made.