In 1865 Scotland, a new and vibrant human understanding of nature and society nears completion as Inspector Archibald Allerdyce is given a message requiring his immediate attendance at the house of the Chief Constable of Edinburgh. A man of the highest public profile
- William, His Grace the Duke of Dornoch - has disappeared. His wife, Josephine, is most concerned: William has not returned to Dalcorn House for three nights, and Arthur, Williamís brother wonders whether Inspector Allerdyce may be able to indicate some possible lines of enquiry.
As Allerdyce and his new partner, Sergeant Hector McGillivray, turn their investigation to the pilloried bulk of Dalcorn House, they learn that Josephine had in private suffered cruel mistreatment at the hands of her husband. More disconcerting is that in the dead of night,
the Duke would travel into Edinburgh and spend his time and money drinking, gambling, dogfighting and whoring, only returning to his concerned wife under cover of darkness.
Mr. Warner, the Dukeís valet, known to be a thief and an untrustworthy rogue, tells the Inspectors that the Duke may be attending The Black Bull, a
subterranean meeting place where customers with certain sexual and criminal proclivities conduct their business in private. A new breed of Scottish detective, Allerdyce is familiar with every slum, close and rookery as his search for the Duke takes him deep into the underbelly of the
city and to the Regency terraces of Danube street, each house proclaiming a measure of wealth and respectability.
In a world where the poor are presumed to exist in crime and depravity, where their only real worth is to generate wealth for the rich, in search of clues
Allerdyce turns to his mistress, Miss Antonia, who always receives the Inspector in her sweet-smelling boudoir. Allerdyce's temptations for Antonia are still strong; thereís no absolute moral reason why Allerdyce shouldnít yield when his duty to his loyal and loving wife, Margaret, is clearly defined.
Amid the struggle between workers and capital for the upper hand in a system that is often fuelled by oppression and injustice, the Dukeís brothers are threatened as information surfaces involving a discarded ex-wife and a bastard daughter. When hints of blackmail surface over Williamís sexual conduct and his assumed secret life, it becomes clear to Allerdyce that someone is out for revenge. While the Detective embarks on a journey to trace two suspects, in an unexpected turn McGillivray becomes a prime suspect as
he faces his own private grief, the sergeantís few words only hinting at an agony of pain and loss for his father and brother, both victims of the Duke of Dornochís oppression.
In this tale of divine retribution, murder, generational animosities and shivering class resentment, secret rifts in the Dornoch
family are linked to the Jacobite rising over a century ago. In polished prose truly symbolic of the time, the author details a fog-shrouded landscape punctured with uncertainty: the trials of despairing tenant farmers; the rigid mores of Victorian Scotland; and the arrogance of two wealthy families, both intent
on prospering from land and other peopleís misery, separated by distance and a violent hereditary enmity.