Vernal was involved with radical groups trying to achieve independence by a violent campaign of violence that included packages of anthrax in the mail, kidnappings, murders and violent marches. Predictably, their activities attracted the authorities’ attention with undercover agents assigned the task of infiltrating the movement. His death had been treated as an accident or suicide, but he was in the habit of carrying sums of money with him and there’s none in the wreckage when his body was discovered. Fox is convinced Vernal was murdered.

Twenty-five years later many of those nationalists have reached the upper echelons of the Scottish National Party as devolution brought the SNP to power in Edinburgh.

As Fox starts digging it seems that someone wants something covered up (predictable, the radicals would doubtless have skeletons they’d prefer to keep in the closet) and with a contemporary terrorist plot in the offing MI5 is also sniffing around.

Fox sets out to discover what became of the other members of the nationalist movement and as he does he also has to deal with his father’s bouts of dementia and his increasingly strained relationship with his sister.

Fox’s father, Mitch, is in a nursing home, Fox is paying the bills, and while he feels guilty about the arrangement the alternative would probably involve Mitch living with him which wouldn’t work either.  His sister Jude is constantly accusing him of not caring about their father and has given Mitch a box of family photographs to jog his fading memory. One of them includes Fox’s uncle, who was involved in the nationalist movement and died in a motorbike accident around the same time as the Vernal crash.

That, in a nutshell is the basic plot line and the major subplot. There are, of course, others. There’s Fox’s interaction with Evelyn Mills, a member of Fife’s Complaints and the only friendly face in Kirkcaldy. She’s a married woman with whom Fox once had a one-night stand when she was slightly drunk and might be open to a rematch.

And Paul Carter, out on bail and under suspicion after his uncle’s death, drowns in the local harbour. Suicide? Murder? Another victim of someone who wants to keep the secrets hidden in the past under wraps?

As all these matters intersect the result is an absorbing read that kept me turning the pages, confirming a suspicion here, adding another strand there and throwing in the odd red herring to keep things interesting. Highly recommended, and a worthy successor to The Complaints, with the prospect, now that the retirement age for Scottish police officers has been raised to sixty-five that we might yet see John Rebus, retired but apparently sifting over the details of old, cold cases, come across Malcolm Fox, whose professional duties, as we’ve seen here, are always likely to push him in the same direction.

© Ian Hughes 2012