Police Cadet Alan McAlpine has just returned to duty at Partickhill Station after the death of his brother who, while serving with the Customs Service, drowns when he tries to save a man who fell from a boat that has been rammed. To ease the twenty year-old back into the service, he is assigned to protect a young woman who is dying, her body so damaged after an attack with acid, there is no hope for her recovery. The police know where she lived, but there is nothing there that gives them any information about who she is. There is just a picture of a beautiful woman, the woman as she was before the attack. In the last stages of pregnancy at the time of the attack, she has given birth to a healthy daughter, a baby she can neither see nor hold. McAlpine breaks the rules; instead of staying in the corridor outside her door, he spends time talking to her, telling her about his brother, telling her about his life. He cannot know, because she cannot speak, that she has been desperate for someone to speak to her, to acknowledge that even in the state she is in, she is alive and needs human contact.
Alan realizes that she is aware of him and gradually they work out a system of communication: a move of her thumb is no, a move of her finger is yes. Alan names her Anastasia after the woman who claimed to be the daughter of the last Czar. He calls her Anna. Suddenly, he is removed from his post and just as suddenly she dies. For Alan, it is too late; he has fallen in love with a woman about whom he knew nothing and he will love her all the days of his life.
Detective Chief Inspector Alan McAlpine returns to Partickhill Station for the first time in twenty-two years to take over the investigation into the deaths of women who appear to be the victims of a serial killer. They have been found with their arms outstretched and their feet crossed at the ankles. The press has dubbed the man “the Crucifixion Killer”. McAlpine begins the slow process of getting to know his new team and learning what little information there is about the victims. There seems to be nothing that connects them until McAlpine starts to focus on Sean McTiernan who has worked in places where he could have met the dead women. McTiernan has just been released from jail after serving a sentence for culpable homicide; he killed a man who had attacked him first.
McAlpine has a good reputation as an investigator. He is married to the beautiful and successful Helena Farrell, the owner of a respected art gallery. On the surface he has everything a man would want but there is still, always, Anna. As the case progresses, the team finds themselves working against their leader who seems to be increasingly haunted by the acid attack 20 years before. Alan has become possessed by the image of a younger woman, a woman who is the ghost of Anna, pulling him further from the reality of his life. And as Alan is becoming increasingly lost, the team is becoming increasingly sure of the identity of their killer.
It isn’t particularly difficult for the reader to determine the identity of the killer. But it is as the story moves toward its resolution that the reader is satisfied that all the threads will come together to a reasonable conclusion.