Jackson Brodie, a former soldier and policeman, now makes his living in Edinburgh with decidedly less adventurous pursuits — in this case, finding a missing cat. While called back to Binky Rain's house to locate her cat, Brodie is intrigued by the plight of the neighbors. Sisters Julia and Amelia Land are distressed by a blue mouse toy — one their 3-year-old sister Olivia clutched when she went missing thirty years ago. The sisters have just found the mouse among the belongings of their recently deceased father. Himself a father of 8-year-old Marlee, and a survivor of a family tragedy, Brodie reluctantly accepts the case.
There is another lost girl — this one brutally murdered. Theo Wyre arrives at Brodie's office to beg the investigator for help. Wyre's daughter Laura was brutally slashed in his own office by a man in a yellow sweater. Obsessed with every detail of the case, Theo needs Brodie to bring some resolution. But Brodie can't do it alone, turning to his former colleague DI Louise Munroe, still on the police force, who isn't quite eager to be involved.
While considering these cases in the bar, Brodie is sidetracked by a beautiful woman, Shirley Manning. After a sexual encounter, Manning's true motive becomes clear — she needs Brodie to find Tanya, the daughter of her sister Michelle. But not deep beneath the surface are some harrowing facts — Michelle has been released from prison for murdering her husband, and Tanya may be mixed up with drugs and prostitution.
It's a trio of complex cases. Will Brodie, now dismayed by his own family drama, be able to handle it? A pink teddy bear, startling family secrets and even the missing cat will help Brodie find the surprising connections and the shocking truth.
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Jackson Brodie is a former Edinburgh cop from Yorkshire, who left the force after doing his job too well, solving a case that led to the suspension of two colleagues for corruption. He's now a private detective, with an ex-wife, Josie, a young daughter, Marlee, and clients like Binky Rain, who hires him to search for lost cats and won't pay his invoices.
When Binky's next door neighbor dies, the man's grown daughters Julia and Amelia arrive to clean out the house, discovering the beloved blue mouse belonging to their younger sister, Olivia, who disappeared thirty years earlier. They hire Jackson to crack this cold case, out of frustration with police inaction but also out of infatuation with this charismatic crime solver.
Checking with his former police colleague DCI Louise Munroe, Jackson learns that another sister, Sylvia, entered a convent a few years after Olivia vanished. But Sylvia has nothing new to add, for now...
Simultaneously, Jackson is helping lawyer Theo Wyre learn who slashed his daughter, Laura, leaving her dead. When an asthma attack almost kills him, Theo is visited daily in the hospital by Lily Rose, a homeless young woman who becomes like a lost daughter to him.
Thinking creatively as usual, Jackson concludes that Laura's killer knew her, was stalking her, and knifed her by accident while intending to threaten her father. Following a lead from Laura's best friend, he tracks down the two girls' lecherous English teacher, confronts him with his seductions of his students, quickly discards him as a suspect, and, eventually, finds the killer living with his mother next door to the teacher.
But before he wraps up Laura's case, Jackson lands an unexpected assignment. A temptress named Shirley lures him to a romantic tryst and later pops the question: will he track down her niece, Tanya, whom she was supposed to raise years earlier after her sister, Michelle, was jailed for murdering her abusive boyfriend with an ax?
Jackson is suspicious of Shirley's motive and tracks down Michelle instead, learning that it was Shirley who axed the boyfriend, with Michelle volunteering to take the wrap because she was sick of her baby and sick of life. When he confronts Shirley with her duplicity (she wants Jackson to find Tanya before Tanya can find her), he notices someone spying on them. It turns out to be Lily Rose, who is the long-lost Tanya.
The case of the other long-lost victim, Olivia, is solved when Sylvia confesses that she accidentally smothered Olivia while protecting her from sexual abuse by their father-something he habitually did to Sylvia. The father covered up Sylvia's crime by burying Olivia on Binky's property, which is exactly where Jackson finds her. To protect Sylvia, he tells the police — namely, Louise — that he located the spot by "instinct."
Punctuating Jackson's frenetic life of detection are flashbacks to his boyhood, when his sister was mysteriously murdered, a case that is still open and which Louise does what she can to solve. She does it out of loyalty to a former colleague, even if he shamelessly exploits her as a source of inside information. She also does it out of a deep attraction to this quirky, exasperating, but quietly brilliant ex-cop.