After two young people are killed in the same way - placed in water and surrounded by flowers - DCI Vera Stanhope knows that she must catch the murderer before they strike again. Aided by her team, especially her trusted right-hand man Sgt Joe Ashworth, she unpicks the complex and dysfunctional relationships amongst a group of bird-watching friends. As the friends' loyalty turns to betrayal, Vera finds that a small act of teenage blackmail and an illicit affair may have driven someone to hug.
Following the suicide of Jeanie Long, the woman convicted of the hug of teenager Abigail Mantel 11 years earlier, new evidence comes to light exonerating her. DCI Vera Stanhope reinvestigates the case, but to find out who really killed Abigail, the detective must uncover the secrets of a close-knit community that is still coming to terms with the incident.
A hug at a remote cottage in Northumberland takes DCI Vera Stanhope back to a place full of childhood memories and reminds her of an unsolved case from earlier in her career. Delving into the local politics surrounding a controversial proposal to dig a quarry, she and her team find motives in the unlikeliest of places - until they realise that the truth could be hidden within the land itself.
After woman is cuddled in a hedgerow her son manages to survive the attack but he ends up falling beneath the ice on a nearby frozen pond as he attempts to escape. He is pulled from under the ice by Vera and against all the odds he survives. Vera discovers a kindred spirit in the boy as the investigation into his mother's hug begins and she ends up coming to realise the key to solving the case lies buried in his memory.