On an early morning run along the Scottish coast, private investigator Jackson Brodie spots a young woman floating in the water, surrounded by pink business cards and wearing striking Eastern Orthodox earrings.
Back on land, crime novelist Martin Canning witnesses a gruesome act of road rage, and Brodie, spotting the commotion, comes to Canning's aid. Canning, terrified that the attacker will find him, pleas with Brodie for protection.
But Brodie is consumed with the mystery of the drowned girl. It is a case that deeply resonates with Brodie's own past, and his sister's tragic end in water. The nervous Canning ends up not being alone, taking on the responsibility for caring for Paul Bradley, the man injured in the road rage incident.
Meanwhile, Gloria Hatter gets a call that her husband Graham is in a coma at the hospital. Arriving there, Gloria finds herself eye-to-eye with Graham's dominatrix.
Still determined to know the identity of the drowned girl, Brodie frantically checks out Russian churches and cafes. He encounters a woman who looks exactly like the drowned girl — but could the case and its parallels to his personal history be making Brodie delusional?
The pink business cards ultimately offer the connection between the disparate threads and lead Brodie to a cleaning company with some dirty secrets and into a dark world of big-time crime and intimate betrayal.
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
Private detective Jackson Brodie sees a corpse floating in Scotland's Firth of Forth near Edinburgh and swims out to it, discovering that it's a woman with Russian Orthodox earrings. Then the current sweeps her away.
Later that day, Jackson witnesses a road-rage incident, which sends a man named Paul Bradley to the hospital with a concussion. Bradley is saved from worse injury by crime writer Martin Canning, who hurls his laptop at the assailant. Learning that Jackson is a detective, Martin asks his protection from reprisal by the attacker, but Jackson tries to put him off and convinces him to go to the hospital with Bradley.
There, Martin sees a Russian dominatrix named Tatiana enter with a heart attack victim, one of Tatiana's clients who happens to be prominent property developer Graham Hatter. Then, at the doctor's request, Martin accompanies Bradley home for observation, where he discovers an assassin's gun in Bradley's bag before he passes out from a drug Bradley has slipped him. After coming to, he goes back to his apartment, only to find DCI Louise Munroe and Jackson on the scene: Martin's housemate has been murdered by someone thinking it was Martin!
Meanwhile, Jackson has learned that the woman in the water probably worked for a shady cleaning service that hires Russian émigrés. He confronts a frightened worker for the firm, who knew the victim. But this woman later turns up dead. Then Jackson is almost garroted by a man who tells him, "You've been making trouble!" But the sleuth fends off the attacker by biting his nose.
Theorizing that his assailant is the man who attacked Bradley and also murdered Martin's housemate, the cleaning woman, and the woman in the water, Jackson remembers that he gave Martin the attacker's license plate number. The records show that the car belongs to Hatter Homes, headed by the heart attack victim, who also owns the cleaning service.
Unfortunately, Hatter is in a coma, but Jackson interviews his wife, Gloria, and learns that the assailant is Terrence Smith, one of Hatter's most trusted employees. Gloria gives Jackson her husband's coded notebook, which Martin deciphers, showing that Hatter's house cleaners are really prostitutes.
Jackson traces Terrence to a pub, where he follows him as he exits — on an assassination mission, as it turns out, since Terrence approaches Tatiana from behind with a rope. Jackson scares him off and then confronts Tatiana with the strange fact that she looks exactly like the dead woman in the water. But she flees too.
Back at Gloria's, Jackson warns her that the police have discovered Hatter's connection to the murders and that as co-director of his company, she is implicated in his criminal ring. At that moment, Tatiana shows up with Hatter's banking information on a flash drive, which she stole after his heart attack. She admits to Jackson that the drowned woman was her twin sister, who was killed for speaking out. Now Tatiana's plan is to get Gloria's help in moving Hatter's money to a Swiss bank, which the two women will tap after they leave the country.
Gloria accepts the offer, but then Terrence appears. Just as he is about to murder them all, he is shot in the back by Martin, who was waiting outside in Jackson's car and is armed with Bradley's assassin's pistol, which he lifted when he found it in Bradley's bag.
In the final plot twist, Hatter expires in his hospital bed after a male nurse enters and pulls the plug on his life support. It is the hit man Bradley, who bids, "Good bye, Mr Hatter. A little present from your wife."