This is a debut novel, set in London and Orkney, in the 1970's and 80's. Clare Carson is an anthropologist, and it is this background that has provided her with inspiration for her plot. Her short biography reveals that her father was an undercover policeman in the 1970's, and she works for human rights.
The central character, Sam, is a very bright student who is set to start a degree at Oxford University in the coming autumn. Sam's family is oddly disjointed: Her mother is a professor of literature, completely self-possessed and independent; her father, Jim, is a bluff, outspoken Yorkshireman who began his career in the Army and has since been an undercover cop for as long as Sam can remember. She has two sisters who are typical teenagers. Her mother was an active participant in the Greenham Common camps, and Sam was frequently taken along there as a child. The immediate reaction is that this must be an autobiographical novel and, if this is the case, for me at least it doesn't quite gel.
Essentially, this is a tale of a father/daughter relationship. Sam relates how, as a seven-year-old, Jim would take her to his eyrie in the cab of a crane suspended high above the London docks, where he would keep an eye on the comings and goings of Soviet shipping. Under the influence of her father and her mother, Sam has experienced a most peculiar childhood. Her own closest friends are those she made in the Greenham Common camps.
As Sam is now spending time at home without much to do before going up to Oxford, Jim suggests she might like to come to Orkney with him for a short break. She can bring a friend if she wants. The Orkney islands were the setting for several family holidays when she was younger and she agrees to go, as she still has a great deal of interest in the pre-history of the islands, although she is well aware that Jim must have an assignment there.
She selects a friend of hers called Tom as a companion, who is also going to Oxford in the autumn. She doesn't know him very well and there is no suggestion of a romance between them.
The part of the book set in Orkney is the most captivating section, as the islands, at the time of the year when the sun never really sets, with their mysterious Neolithic burial grounds and stone circles, provide a fascinating background. Sam is very well aware that they are being watched the whole time, and that Jim is meeting various contacts. She takes Tom into her confidence and he eventually believes her. They undertake investigations of their own. But it is impossible to tell who is a friend and who a life-threatening danger.
These events lead to a tragic denouement. I am not convinced that a father would involve his young daughter in his undercover work, however superficially. Did Clare Carson's father do so?