Stranded by a breakdown on the barren moorland of the Scottish Borders, American antiques restorer Hazel Tripp reacts warily at first to Good Samaritan Jeremy Carpenter, as visions of assaulted hitchhikers dance in her head. But it’s dark and raining, and Jeremy is so obviously harmless that she eventually accepts his offer of assistance. He takes her to his home, the imposing but crumbling Tinnisbeck Castle, to dry off, explaining that in order to maintain the castle for the sake of his dying grandfather, he’s regularly forced to sell furnishings and antiques to keep up with property payments. Hazel naturally takes a professional interest in Jeremy’s story and in the castle accoutrements. Coincidentally, both of them hold a justifiable grudge against slick art collector Gordon McKennerty, known locally as a crime kingpin. Jeremy was swindled out of a small fortune in an antique sale to McKennerty, and Hazel lost a valued job when he forced her employer out of business. As the duo fantasizes about exacting revenge on McKennerty, a plan blossoms in tandem with skittish romance. And when they learn more about McKennerty’s past crimes and brutal methods, the plan takes on the fervor of a crusade that depends on a key accomplice: McKennerty’s abused wife Glynis, who’s searching for a way to escape him without reprisals.
The lively writing by veteran Hammond (Flamescape, 1999, etc.), plus the frank depiction of a felonious relationship between two likable protagonists, adds welcome dimension to an otherwise one-note sting.