Dandy Gilver and her gentleman sidekick, Alec Osborne, take to the wintry coast of Scotland in their fifth investigation (A Deadly Measure of Brimstone, 2014, etc.).
A prosperous merchant summons Gilver and Osborne with an unpleasant mystery: the barrels of herring he wholesales have turned up containing human remains. Desperate to keep the news out of the public eye, he dispatches Dandy and Alec to his source: Gamrie, a tiny fishing village clinging precariously to the cliffs over the North Sea. Presenting themselves as philologists, Dandy and Alec have license to ask nosy questions about not only the folk traditions and Scottish vernacular peculiar to these insular fisherfolk, but also any mysterious deaths or strangers come to town. Their dogged investigation uncovers a host of colorful characters: an exceedingly sanctimonious parson, a couple of Bohemian painters, a most uncanny pair of taxidermists, and the hearty young girls who follow the boats to gut and pack the herring. Dandy and Alec close in on the murderer just as a vicious storm closes in on Christmas Eve. The ending, telegraphed a bit early in the story, is fully gothic—a grisly shocker but also a tidy piece of justice.