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Suddenly, the past looms into the present. Nina Hazlitt believes that her teenage daughter, who disappeared fourteen years earlier, was one of a series of victims whose bodies were never discovered – and whose murderer is at work again. Following news of a recent disappearance, Hazlitt revisits the police unit she once haunted. Rebus, by chance, takes her call and senses a connection. "Sally Hazlitt, Brigid Young, Zoe Beddows... 1999, 2002, 2008," his erstwhile protégé DI Siobhan Clarke scoffs, "You know as well as I do it's thin stuff." But Annette McKie, the latest missing teenager, was last seen, like the others, near the A9 motorway.
When a photograph of a desolate road sent from Annette's cellphone matches one sent from Zoe Beddows's phone years earlier, Rebus (and more reluctantly Clarke) travel north. The repartee between the two – Clarke ascending in rank and Rebus, as always, flouting authority – is satisfyingly familiar, but Rankin wisely avoids fond reminisces that might soften the edges of either personality. Similarly, characters such as crime boss Ger Cafferty (perversely indebted now to Rebus for saving his life) are both recognizable and surprisingly fresh while the new generation of gangsters – and detectives – seem bloodless by comparison. "He's an office manager, Siobhan," Rebus observes of Clarke's boss, "...could be CID or a company selling fitted kitchens." While Rebus could only be a cop, with a cop's memory for faded details and distant connections that, in this case, link yesterday and today, the killer and the killed.