At five years old Claude Aubrey witnesses the stabbing of his father Jaques, a fisherman and smuggler, at the hands of Alasdair McGonnigle, a Scottish painter who is lodging at his home in the picturesque French fishing port of Collioure on the Mediterranean Sea. Fearing for her own life Claude’s mother Antoinette abandons Claude and her husband shortly after the stabbing and flees Collioure.
Claude’s upbringing at the hands of his brutal father leads him inextricably into a life of crime. Leaving Collioure at the first opportunity, Claude moves to Marseille where he establishes himself as one of France’s most notorious crime lords involved in drugs, prostitution and extortion. Using the legitimate cover of his upmarket nightclubs, and despite the best efforts of the police and the French judicial system, Claude has managed to avoid prosecution.
Now in his seventies, Claude’s sister Valerie, a sister that he had not known about until his father’s death, is brutally murdered at his luxury villa on the outskirts of Collioure. The apparent motive for her death is the theft of two paintings by Alasdair McGonnigle that had passed to Valerie on the death of their mother. Claude finds himself in the bizarre situation of assisting the police to catch her murderer.
A man known to hedge his bets and not to be denied his rightful revenge, Claude instructs his second-in-command Guillaume Dumas, a former French Legionnaire, to secretly track down the killer and extract retribution. Claude also finds himself struggling with his own personal issues as his son Didier pits himself against Guillaume to take over control of the family business.
Will McIntyre a Scottish born art expert working for the Art Crimes Division of Interpol based in Lyon is brought into the murder investigation at the behest of the French police in Perpignan. He is assisted by his twin brother Iain, a respected art expert with an international firm of art auctioneers. As the investigation moves onwards to Nice and then Paris, Will is injured in the crossfire as he is gunned down in the metro tunnels underneath Paris. With the clock ticking Claude must unmask the murderer and seek his own vengeance before Will can solve the case.
From the ashes of his paintings, the story of Alasdair McGonnigle emerges to reveal a man tortured by divided loyalties and betrayal and Claude is forced to re-evaluate the past as he unravels the mystery of his mother’s life.