“What secrets from the past was he about to uncover?”
When Scotland’s DCI Andy Gilchrist is called to the scene of a macabre discovery—a skeleton unearthed in a thirty-five-year-old grave alongside the expected occupant’s remains—he has no idea how this current mystery will draw him back into the past. The bones belong to a young woman who vanished after a time in the picturesque St. Andrews and was believed to have gone on to Mexico. What seems an unusual investigation turns more bizarre when a lighter found with the skeleton is possibly that of his dead brother, killed in an accident (also thirty-five years previously). Gilchrist is concerned that the evidence might point to his brother as the young woman’s killer. Given the assortment of characters, both current and with ties to the past, Andy finds himself not only interviewing those who might have come in contact with the girl but also revisiting his brother’s tragic death, a hit-and-run accident in which the driver was never found.
The trail is blurred by the passage of time and the itinerant nature of relationships at the time the American girl, Kelly Roberts, fell in love with St. Andrews. Andy interviews people who are reluctant to remember the heady days of the ‘70s or the foolish exploits they indulged in as Andy recreates the time and place of the murder, revisiting Kelly’s shabby apartment and searching for evidence. Above all, he is desperate to prove his brother had nothing to do with Kelly’s death. Unfortunately, his nemesis in the department is waiting for Gilchrist to make a mistake. At the same time, Andy has an opportunity to delve into his brother’s untimely death, technology opening new doors into an old and unresolved case.
Unfamiliar with the previous two novels in the series, I found myself having to trust Muir to make the critical connections between past and current events in Gilchrist’s life, including the death of his ex-wife and the difficult relationships he has with his adult son and daughter (though these are much foggier). In addition, there is a seductive but irritating author and psychic, Gina Belli, who inserts herself into Andy’s life and the investigation, either warning of impending danger—a conflagration in a locked garage—or interfering with the detective’s peace of mind (the location of the lighter Gilchrist has “borrowed” to get Belli’s psychic impressions). A quick trip across the ocean to interview Kelly’s mother convinces Andy that he is near the heart of the mystery, why Kelly was murdered and who was driven to commit such an extreme act.
The writing is fast-paced and the characters engaging—certainly not all likable, but well-fitted to the context of past and present, ulterior motives and old behaviors that can ruin present reputations. Racing against time, Andy takes many risks that put him in danger, either with the killer or the hit-and-run driver who left the scene of his brother’s accident. It is a clever mix of events and personalities, enhanced by the Scottish countryside and the intimation of secrets buried under the bucolic vistas of St. Andrews. Though Andy’s personal problems are left unresolved, and the author/psychic’s agenda remains inexplicable, Muir drives the action to the final denouement—and none too soon for Gilchrist’s career. Muir has the instincts of a good crime writer and the skill to tell his story, Tooth for a Tooth a satisfying read.