Imagine Braveheart without Mel Gibson: that's what Dame Margaret Kerr of Perth is facing at the close of the 13th century and the opening of this new series by the chronicler of Owen Archer (A Gift of Sanctuary, 1998, etc.). Margaret's husband, Roger Sinclair, vanished five months ago in Edinburgh during its occupation by English soldiers resisting Scottish independence. After Roger's cousin Jack Sinclair is killed looking for him and Margaret discovers mutilations and an unusual stone under Jack's shroud, she forces her brother Andrew, a priest, to escort her and her mother-in-law's maid, Celia, to her uncle Murdoch's tavern in Edinburgh, a rathole infested by political provocateurs. Murdoch soon disappears, leaving the place in the keeping of his unlikely business partner, James Comyn, a relative of the deposed Scottish King, John Balliol. But on his return, he confirms that Margaret's room had been occupied by an aristocratic female supporter of Robert Bruce's claim to the crown—a woman personally escorted by Roger. Still wondering what this mystery woman might be to Roger, Margaret spots her husband on the street, his face bleeding from four symmetrical lacerations. Though he disappears without acknowledging her, her investigations among the local weavers reveal the weapon that wounded Roger and the reasons—personal and political—for his cousin's murder.
Besides uncovering the lurid crimes behind the mutilations, Margaret chooses sides in the War for Independence and forms an uneasy business partnership with her uncle. Even so, the fadeout, trailing as many loose ends as a broken loom, provides plenty of tangles to be sorted out in the continuing saga.