A strike vote pits miner against miner in the colliery town of Bellingsworth.
Old-timer Tommy Sanders, sick with black lung, thinks a strike is the only way the miners will get the pay and medical benefits they deserve. But his contemporary, Len Hopkins, insists that striking will only hurt the men in the mines. The morning after the two come to blows at the Miners’ Institute during a celebration of the town band’s winning the coveted Brough Cup, housekeeper Susan Danvers finds Hopkins in the outside lavatory, his skull shattered by a short-handled pickax. DCI Monika Paniatowski (Echoes of the Dead, 2011, etc.) has a hunch that the motive is local and personal. But her boss, Chief Constable George Baxter, knows that the Special Branch, led by shadowy agent Forsyth, is taking particular interest in the case. Monika’s investigation is plagued by distractions. First, her best friend, DI Colin Beresford, newly liberated from 30 years of virginity and feeling his oats, takes every opportunity to criticize his boss’ handling of the case. Then, her daughter, Louisa, is mysteriously abducted from a schoolmate’s party, only to be returned a few hours later. As Beresford pursues one false lead after another, Monika struggles to find a solution that puts all the pieces, personal and political, in their proper place.
Just as the Special Branch thwarts Monika, politics and espionage undermine Spencer’s usually solid mixture of police procedure and detection.