The book opens at Rebus’s third day at Tulliallan Scottish Police College. He is in a Career Analysis Meeting with Andrea Thompson, having met her the previous day, discussing his job. It is revealed that he is in the meeting because he lost it with DCS Templer and threw a mug of tea at her in irritation at the way a case was being handled. After Andrea and Rebus talk to no conclusion, he goes to the toilets where he encounters Jazz McCullough. Jazz thinks that Rebus is trying to seduce Andrea Thompson. The two men then go to a seminar room where they meet the four other policemen making up ‘the wild bunch’: DI Francis Gray, DS Stu Sutherland, DI Tam Barclay and DC Allan Ward. They begin listening to a lecture by a uniformed officer, but Rebus uses the time to recall the consequences that led to his posting here.

The case was of Edward Marber, an Edinburgh art and antique dealer who was bludgeoned to death outside his home in Duddingston. Because he was dropped off by taxi and never entered his house, the circumstances of death seemed more suspicious than mere robbery. However, Rebus had been sidelined in the case, his only duties cold calling friends and associates. At one morning briefing where he was told he would be doing more door to door he challenged Templer saying they were getting nowhere. After she taunted him, he threw a mug of tea at her.

Back in the seminar room, Rebus’s thoughts are broken by the officer asking him to act out a role play with Francis Gray. Rebus is asked to be a member of public entering a police station, but Gray brings the charade into farce.

That evening the six men drink at a local pub, McCullough leaving early to get home to his wife and kids. Back at St. Leonard’s station, Siobhan is working late and notices a message on someone’s screensaver about her. As she changes it she gets a call from Rebus, who had some spare change after ringing Jean. He tells her how things are going, then she fills him in on the Marber case: Marber had recently come to blows with a competing artist, and Morris Cafferty had turned up uninvited to Marber’s preview. Rebus ends the call and then notices a man at the bar watching his group.