Once, on a winter's night many years ago, after a heavy snow, the devil passed through the Scottish fishing town of Coldhaven, leaving a trail of dark hoofprints across the streets and roofs of the sleeping town.
Michael Gardiner has lived in Coldhaven all his life, but still feels like an outsider, a blow-in. When Moira Birnie decides that her abusive husband is the devil and then kills herself and her two young sons, a terrible chain of events begins. Michael's infatuation with Moira's teenage daughter takes him on a journey towards a defined fate, where he is forced to face his present and then, finally, his past...
In Burnside's first novel since his acclaimed memoir A Lie About My Father, random acts of cruelty unearth a town's dark secrets. In the charged, superstitious Scottish village of Coldhaven, it's a year after 32-year-old Moira Birnie has killed herself and her two sons but spared her 14-year-old daughter, Hazel. Like many in town, photographer's son Michael Gardiner, who narrates, has heard the story: a heavily drinking Moira thought her abusive husband was the devil when she drugged her sons and set her car on fire. The deaths remind Michael of his youthful, class-crossed affair with Moira, as well as his encounters with her bullying brother, Malcolm. With his own marriage crumbling and his sanity in doubt, Michael obsesses about Hazel, who he thinks may be his daughter, and the confrontation that ensues between the two changes them both. The plot doesn't hold together, but Burnside creates an intense, Stephen King like atmosphere around Michael's observations and memories, and the complex cast's secrets and grudges.