The 1984 coal miners' strike in Great Britain hit the Scottish town of Newton of Wemyss very hard. Miners' families had no heat, no food, and no hope. In desperation, a few blacklegs (scabs) went south to work in the mines of Nottingham, England. The scabs were scorned and despised by Newton townspeople, and the families they left behind were vilified. So.....when miner Mick Prentice disappeared from Newton in 1984 his wife Jennie and daughter Misha assumed he'd gone scabbing and wrote him out of their lives forever.
Jump ahead to 2007 and Misha's little son Luke is dying from leukemia and in dire need of a blood marrow transplant. Unable to find a compatible donor among local family members, Misha tries to locate her father.....and discovers he never went to Nottingham. So after 22 years Misha goes to the police and declares Mick Prentice a missing person.
Detective Inspector Karen Pirie, a cold case cop who tends to go her own way, dives into the inquiry. However she has to hide this from her disapproving boss, Assistant Chief Constable Simon Lees - who's been nicknamed 'The Macaroon' and considered a 'numpty' (bit of a fool). ACC Lees doesn't want to spend money on this old case, and his interactions with Karen are the funniest parts of the book.
Karen is soon assigned an additional cold case. More than two decades ago an heiress named Catriona Maclennan Grant and her infant son Adam were kidnapped. Catriona's father, Sir Broderick Maclennan Grant, agreed to pay a huge ransom, but the handover went wrong. In the confusion Catriona was killed, the kidnappers escaped, and baby Adam disappeared.
Now, 20-plus years later, a freelance journalist named Bel Richmond is vacationing in Italy when she happens upon a clue to the Catriona kidnapping. The journalist parlays her discovery into an interview with the reclusive Sir Broderick Maclennan Grant, who reports the clue to the cops and insists that DI Pirie handle the case.
Grant also asks Bel to (secretly) gather more information in Tuscany.....perhaps thinking of dispatching a little frontier justice. Bel readily agrees to go, hoping to get a book deal - or even a movie - out of the whole business.
Meanwhile, DI Pirie and her partner - DS Phil Parhatka - juggle the two cases.
To locate Mick, the detectives speak to his family and friends as well as officers of the old National Miner's Union. They also ask the Nottingham police to interview the scabs who settled there years before. To find Catriona's kidnappers, the cops talk to her father and ex-boyfriend and get help from the carabinieri in Italy.
As the investigations proceed new information and discoveries come to light regarding both inquiries.
The story alternates between the past and present, so we learn what was going on in the characters' lives twenty years ago and how the investigations are proceeding now.
To say much more would give away spoilers. I will say, though, that there's a little flirty tension between DI Karen and DS Phil. However Karen - who sees herself as plain, chubby, and rumpled - doesn't really believe Phil could be romantically interested in her.
As the investigations into the two cold cases proceed some readers may think they know how things will turn out....but there are some big surprises. I'd recommend the book to mystery fans.
I'll definitely read more Val McDermid mysteries.
(I've read McDermid's non-fiction book Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime - which is excellent.)