At an archaeological dig at Whalsay, a grim discovery is made: a set of human remains.
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The discovery intrigues the islanders – is this a body from the distant past, or one of more recent provenance? Subsequently, a shooting accident takes the life of an elderly woman, and Ann Cleeves’s doughty copper, Jimmy Perez, is called in to investigate by the woman's grandson. As Jimmy begins to dig into the circumstances surrounding the death, he finds evidence of a massive, bitter dispute between two families: a dispute whose mean-spiritedness and greed has riven the whole community on Whalsay. Another death occurs, and Jimmy finds himself struggling -- both with recalcitrant islanders who offer him little help, and with his own deeper unfamiliarity with his surroundings. The answer, of course, lies in the past...