M.C. Beaton returns with another Hamish Macbeth mystery. The Scottish Highlands Village sergeant clings to his station in Lochdubh, avoiding the stress of the larger one in Strathbane and the constant threat of DCI Blair, who will seize on any excuse to fire him. Plagued by an inability to settle down with a good woman, Hamish is further hampered in his romantic ambitions by the presence of Constable Dick Fraser, a sluggish TV game show addict who would rather eat or rest than rouse himself to the business at hand. Assigned to Lochdubh, Fraser has settled in, decorating the station with his prize winnings in domestic harmony with a disgruntled Hamish, who sees him as an impediment to a healthy sex life.
Approached by Morag Merrilea, a secretary at a Cnothan dress factory, regarding a crime against her person, Macbeth is frustrated by her admission that she can remember nothing of the event. He suggests she visit a local psychic, an appointment she happily anticipates, but a note on her door suggests that she has left town. Macbeth's suspicions are confirmed when her body is discovered later at the factory. When an autopsy reveals yet another twist to the story, Hamish concentrates on the colleagues at the factory, compiling a list of interviews with potential suspects—one of whom, assumed missing, is also found dead. This is only the beginning of a series of incidents that eventually draw the attention of the media—and the dreaded Blair.
Unable to successfully sublimate his always active libido, Hamish is attracted to the comely sister of a suspect but rationalizes their date and subsequent night together at the station. There he discovers that all is not what it seems, helpless to turn the amorous young woman away until she is seduced by greener pastures. The beauty returns, if only to further complicate the case in pursuit of media attention, the occasion of yet more violence and Macbeth's conviction that this wily killer is an amateur with an incredible streak of luck. He renews his energies, drawing closer to an outrageous scheme and a sensational string of murders. Like a cat with nine lives, the killer escapes again and again, finally brought down in a dramatic confrontation.
Hamish's ineptitude in romance endears a character adept at solving crime in his small community, his naiveté regarding women at times laughable, at times sad, a renewed passion for news presenter Elspeth Grant run aground by the interference of another. The reappearance of ex-fiancé Priscilla Halburton-Smythe further exacerbates what might have been a happy future. Such is the case with this flawed Romeo: each novel brings him close to true love, but circumstances snatch success from his reaching grasp. What might happen if Hamish ever ties the knot? Might his skills as a detective be compromised. Beaton seems disinclined to find out.
Blending the intimacies of village life with the threat of modern police work impinging on Macbeth's treasured seclusion, this novel introduces the economic realities of the world at large, the fear of a factory closing and lost jobs, new technology in accumulating information on suspects, a hungry news media. But murder is as old as mankind, motives inspired by the usual motives, greed, envy, revenge. While Macbeth searches diligently for a killer, village life is plagued by the usual pettiness: a crofter attacked; an elderly woman robbed of her valuables; even the return of potential killers Olivia and Charles Palfour. Macbeth takes them all in stride. Romantic entanglements, not so much.