Hestan Island, marooned in the Solway Firth, tethered to the mainland at low tide by a causeway called The Rack; Hestan home to two men quietly living out their lives, until a boy is almost crushed to death in their tiny copper mine, when their shared past begins to unravel. Over at Balcary House, Brogar Finn and Sholto McKay arrive and soon become involved in the affairs on Hestan, which in turn leads them back through the bloody wars of Crimea and the lands of the Tartars.
The third in the Scottish Mystery Series, Hidden Pasts is host to a complex plot that explores the history of a little known part of Scotland, and links it with the wider arena of warfare in the east and how small events can echo down the years, with deadly consequence.
Kerr cracked open the door of his little lighthouse shack and went out into the dawn, no need of a lamp, knowing every inch of this tiny island – barely a square mile in extent, knowing it like others know their children’s faces - and didn’t hesitate as he strode away into the unborn day.
He rubbed at the stubble about his neck, the only outward sign of his agitation, looked out towards the east and saw the narrow shine of cloud, the low spread of light kept dim by a thick grey roll of cloud. He shook himself to get some warmth into his limbs and headed on for the sparse shell causeway, heard the sounds of the many birds hunched upon the edges of the island - in every crevice of every inlet, ledge and cave - heard them beginning to wake and shake out their feathers, untuck their heads from beneath their wings, unfolding themselves into the coming day. He saw a stray duck sitting a few yards ahead of him in the heather, the graceful curve of her neck, the black bead of her eye, the slight shine of one single green feather amongst the tawny rest. It was odd she’d not moved at his approach, for usually such birds would hie and fly at the slightest disturbance, and odder still that she didn’t up and go as he moved closer still. Once upon her, he had the reason: the bird was dead, and not long since, still in full rigour, held upright by a small tussock against which she must have leant for support while she breathed her last. The perfection of the bird made him catch his breath as he nudged it with his boot. The beak was the colour of polished tortoiseshell with black smudges at either end, the faint run of blood from her nostrils serving only to enhance the shine of the rest. He studied her a few moments more before taking the knife from his belt and kneeling down in the heather and, with one swift movement, separated the head of the bird from its body, took it up and tucked into his pouch, wiping the blade of his knife upon the heather before moving on, the beheaded bird toppling onto her side as he went.
He didn’t get far, halted by Gabriel Merryweather who was high-tailing it across the heather towards him. Kerr sighing briefly in irritation.
‘Wait up! Wait up!’ Gabriel was shouting and so Kerr did, though indicated by his stance, by the stamping of his boots, that he was in no mood for company. ‘Wait up!’ Gabriel said again, coming to a ragged halt a few yards away from Kerr.
‘Let’s not go over all this again,’ Kerr started. ‘You know there’s not a damn thing I can do about…’
‘It’s not that,’ Gabriel said, hands on his knees, getting his breath back. ‘It’s not that all. It’s that I think someone was in number three last night, caught a glimpse I’m sure.’
‘They can’t be here already,’ Kerr argued. ‘I’ve to them this morning. You know that as well as I do.’
‘T’weren’t them’ Gabriel shook his head. ‘Couldn’t ha’been. Just a singleton, I’m certain. But it was wicked stormy, like you knows, so didn’t check it then, but checked not half hour since, and them’s still there. I can hear `em, Kerr.’
Kerr looked over at Gabriel Merryweather, the light beginning at last to shine, to make shadows, the rain falling again, the wind buffeting the two of them as they stood legs akimbo on the track. He glanced over towards the copper cove and doubted Merryweather’s story, for what the blazes would anyone be doing over here at all, let alone in number three?
He worked number one shaft and Gabriel number two, but number three was all boarded up, being saved for a rainy day, and not this one; not any, if they could help it, given what they knew was inside..’