Outside Edinburgh, private investigator Jackson Brodie is working his latest case. He's been hired by Gary Moore to find out if his wife Michelle is having an affair.
While driving home, photographic evidence in hand, Brodie's car stalls, leaving him to be nearly hit by an old woman driving by. The situation goes from bad to cataclysmic when her car veers off the road onto train tracks, and Brodie must try to save her and himself from an oncoming train.
Delirious in the hospital, offering cryptic words to former colleague DI Louise Munroe, Brodie encounters his unlikely rescuer — Reggie, a young girl who saved him at the scene. Enamored with her new friend, Reggie also has a case for him. Dr. Joanna Hunter, who employs Reggie as a nanny, has vanished. Her husband Neil brushes it off as a holiday visit to family, but Reggie knows Joanna had no family.
The wounded Brodie is drawn into the case, one that will call on all of his now diminished faculties. But Brodie is hindered by the fact that somehow his wallet was misplaced at the train crash, and now he holds the identification for one Andrew Jones, also apparently at the crash site.
Some reckless driving and an arrest aside, Brodie and Reggie discover more unnerving clues in the Hunter case, a connection to an older case, and come to the daunting realization that Hunter may be in imminent danger.
But the increasingly frantic Gary Moore isn't interested in Brodie's other pursuits — he simply wants to find his wife, know the truth, and will do anything to get it.
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
While pursuing an infidelity investigation for suspicious husband Gary Moore, private detective Jackson Brodie gets stranded on a rural road. Attempting to flag down passing motorist Ms. MacDonald, Jackson inadvertently disorients the elderly woman, who has a seizure and drives off the road, plunging down an embankment and landing upended on railroad tracks. As he attempts to extract her, a train plows into the car.
Jackson wakes up in a hospital room and discovers a plucky teenage girl named Reggie, who was at Ms. MacDonald's for a tutoring lesson and heard the train wreck. Though the old woman died, Reggie managed to save Jackson. She now tells him he must repay her in kind, just like the debt discharged by the Morgan Freeman character rescued by Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, her favorite movie. Jackson's assignment: find Dr. Joanna Hunter, the woman Reggie works for as a nanny, who has disappeared.
As he drifts in and out of consciousness, Jackson wakes up to see his old colleague DCI Louise Munroe at his hospital bedside. To her shock, he says that he loves her, then falls back asleep, remembering nothing of the declaration, which haunts Louise.
Jackson's plight is complicated by the fact that he has the ID of Andrew Jones, a recently released murderer who switched driver's licenses with the lifeless Jackson while he was lying by the track. Andrew later kills himself at the scene of his crime, the murder of a young mother and two of her three children, thirty years earlier.
The other child and the only survivor from that long-ago massacre is none other than Joanna, who police theorize has gone into hiding in reaction to Andrew's release. In fact, she and her baby are being held hostage by a gangster who is trying to extort money from Joanna's husband, Neil, a corrupt small businessman.
Discharging himself from the hospital, Jackson goes on a mission to find Joanna, accompanied by his savior, Reggie, who he learns is an academically ambitious, self-reliant orphan living with her brother, a drug dealer.
They finally track Joanna to the gangster's hideout, where Jackson arrives just after Joanna has managed to fatally stab her two captors. Jackson sets the hideout and corpses ablaze, and then reunites Joanna and her baby, Reggie, and Neil, with the police none the wiser about Neil's petty criminality or Joanna's harrowing ordeal. Oddly, Joanna says that she recognizes Jackson from somewhere.
In other mayhem, Gary, the suspicious husband, shoots to death Louise's assistant, DC Marcus Stewart, under the mistaken impression that Marcus is his wife's lover.
Amid deep sadness over this tragedy, Jackson visits Louise's house on Christmas day and insistently asks what he said to her in the hospital, which she has mentioned cryptically. Louise admits that he said he loved her. Jackson replies, "That's about right then." And they part with the implied promise of romance.
Later, on a run in the hills overlooking Edinburgh, Jackson thinks about Joanna's remark that they have met before. Indeed they have, for Jackson was the young soldier who rescued Joanna from her hiding place after her mother and siblings were murdered thirty years ago.