Although the majority of the plot takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland, Kate Atkinson's third novel to feature retired police detective Jackson Brodie actually begins in Devon, in the south east of England, where a six year old girl, Joanna, witnesses her mother's, sister's and brother's brutal and bloody murders, barely surviving herself. The narrative is actually written in retrospect, thirty years removed from the crime, and is told in equal part from the perspectives of Detective Chief Inspector Louise Munroe, sixteen-year-old babysitter Regina Chase, and Jackson Brodie.
Reviews of the novel were, for the most part, positive, and it was named 2009 Richard and Judy Best Read at the British Book Awards, selected by the eponymous creators of the prize, talk show hosts Richard Madely and Judy Finnigan. Atkinson has done very well in terms of awards during her literary career; she was the recipient of the 1995 Whitbread Prize for her novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum, winning twice more, after the Prize had been renamed the Costa Book Awards.
The novel was adapted for television by the BBC in 2011, as part of the detective series Case HIstories, which centered around the collected cases of Jackson Brodie, played by Jason Isaacs.