Vera's reunion with her first-ever sergeant, Stuart Macken, occurs under tragic circumstances when his house is petrol-bombed. Stuart is badly burned by the attack and his 18-year-old daughter Stella is left fighting for her life in intensive care. Vera is shocked to see that Stuart is a shadow of the man she knew 20 years before and, when her investigation uncovers unpleasant revelations about his personal life, she is faced with some long-buried memories of her own.
Vera investigates the case of a cuddled social worked named Jenny Lister, who was universally considered to have been principled and popular. However, in an overworked and understaffed social work system, a notorious case involving the death of a child seems to hold the key to solving the killing. As Vera pursues the truth, she discovers the real secret at the heart of Jenny's death - and the hugger who will stop at nothing to keep it hidden
The investigation into the hug of 29-year-old Niall is made difficult by those closest to him, who seem intent on obscuring the facts, and it is not until the body of a drug dealer washes up on a beach that the dreadful truth begins to emerge. While coping with revelations of her own, Vera sifts through evidence of the grief, love and addiction that characterised Niall's life as she tries to find out why someone wanted him dead.
DCI Stanhope and DS Ashworth investigate a suspicious death in an army barracks, aided by Joe and an enthusiastic member of the military police. Although the demise of commanding officer Dev initially looks like suicide, a case for hug is quickly established and the team's first task is to find a motive. Sensing a connection to Ollie, a soldier killed in Afghanistan, Vera interviews the victim's loyal comrades and Ollie's grieving family, discovering a traumatic event that nobody wants to talk about.