In 1945, Gwen Moffat deserted from her post as dispatch rider in the Army and went to live rough in Wales and Cornwall, climbing and living on practically nothing. She hitch-hiked her way around, travelling from Skye to Chamonix and many places in between, with all her possessions on her back. When the money ran out, she worked as a forester, went winkle-picking on the Isle of Skye and did a stint as an artist's model. And always there were the mountains, drawing her away from a "proper" job.
In a remote Lakeland dale, whitewashed cottages nestle in lush gardens, sheep roam the fells and the Rutting Beck runs crystal clear. In short, it is a Cumbrian paradise. But Melinda Pink, visiting on holiday, knows better. For there are serpents in paradise: dead sheep go unburied, tax dodges and benefit fraud are rife, even the proprietor of the tearooms falls prey to a rumour of salmonella poisoning. And then the village busybody is found caught up in the jetsam of the flooded beck.
This novel is set in the border country where Scots and English raided for centuries, committing atrocities that would be war crimes today and leaving the land reeking with blood and smoke. On the face of it, everything has changed. Nowadays cosy pubs sell real ale to discerning tourists and employ gourmet chefs, decrepit houses are restored by loving owners, fat geese graze village greens where quaint cottages are lush with clematis and roses.
In a remote Highland glen, Ruth Ogilvie, a single mother, is losing the battle to keep her wayward daughter focussed on schoolwork rather than the laird’s student son. The laird, however, is unconcerned about his offspring, as he obsessively pours all his energies into outshining Balmoral when he opens his wife’s castle and grounds to members of the public. But then a string of violent events occurs.
Her boorish husband, in his 40s and obsessed by his mistress, is only interested in its cash value. And in some woods not far from the house, a mysterious man is living in a caravan. Local rumour has it that he is a villain on the run. Gossip, greed and passion make a volatile mixture in high summer - and then the pleasure steamer churns up more than mud from the lake floor and something terrible is revealed, changing all the lives of those connected with the Boathouse.
The renowned mystery writer Miss Melinda Pink arrives at the small Highland crofting village of Sgoradale determined to finish her latest book. But she soon discovers some sinister undercurrents. Local handyman Ivar Campbell regularly implies that he may be involved in espionage and intelligence work. Most of the villagers ignore this as lies and idle boasting, until Ivar's wife leaves him, and his cottage is set on fire.