Philip Miller studied at Edinburgh University, moved to Glasgow for a 20-year career in journalism as an art critic, before returning to Edinburgh where he now works as a civil servant. This return has enabled him to discover areas of the city he never knew as a student (Portobello, Merchiston Allotments, Goldenacre itself), and to succumb to their charms. Fusing those aspects of his autobiography together, his third novel, The Goldenacre, is in part a love letter to Edinburgh, a lament to the dying art of investigative journalism, and an intriguing insight into shenanigans in the world of fine art.

All built on the foundation of a lost Rennie Mackintosh painting …

Intriguing? Well, I couldn’t resist it. Nor could I stop reading, once started. Though I must warn you, while the painting at the centre of the novel may as luminous as the wonderful book jacket, the story itself it is very dark.

The Goldenacre, a painting worth £12 million and part of a private collection, is to be used to pay substantial death duties. Thomas Tallis is sent to Scotland to verify the painting’s provenance and authenticity. Around the time of his arrival, however, a local artist is found dead in his studio, and a city councillor in the toilets of a pub on the Royal Mile. Both have been dispatched using a brutal but very efficient method of execution.

What connects these two deaths? It’s not for a detective to uncover the answers, but for the journalist, Shona Sandison. She believes in legwork, proper investigation, and is at loggerheads with her new editor at The Edinburgh Post, who is pushing ahead with digitisation and towards a don’t-let the-facts-get-in-the-way-of-a-good-story reporting ethos. Whereas Shona wants to verify the facts before she tells the story. The main thing these days is to get the story online. At one point Shona has an exclusive for the morning’s paper. Only the story is published online the previous evening. So much for her exclusive. She is angry … as was Miller when this happened to him in real life.

Shona’s future career is in danger, as indeed is Tallis’s. His personal life is already shattered as the novel commences. His father, an ex-MI6 operative, has gone off-grid; his marriage has failed; he desperately misses his young son. (The unanswered texts to his father and the phone calls to his son are heartbreaking.) Some past scandal has left his career hanging by the thinnest of threads. Trying to lose himself in drugs and alcohol is not the wisest of moves, particularly when the Director of the fictitious Public Gallery is obviously too keen for Tallis to authenticate the painting and disappear back to London, and the painting’s owners keep delaying Tallis viewing the painting.

It doesn’t take a Sherlock to know that dodgy dealings are afoot. The question is whether Tallis, in his distraction, is aware of the growing menace. Resolution actually requires the cooperation of Shona and Tallis, who are unknown to each other for most of the novel. But at what cost?

The ending is a noir as noir can be. Satisfying in that aspect but cruel. And Philip Miller struck me as such a humane man. Tsk. Then again, Simenon and Chandler, whom Miller cited as influences, don’t pull their punches either.