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From the confines of his hospital bed, Inspector Jury is seeking refuge from Nurse Hannibal's constant speculations about his chances of survival when his friend, and partner in crime (prevention), Melrose Plant, arrives with a distraction. It's a story he overheard a young woman telling in The Grave Maurice about a girl named Nell Ryder - granddaughter to the owner of the Ryder Stud Farm in Cambridgeshire who has been missing for more than a year. More interestingly though, she is the daughter of Jury's surgeon.
In the wake of this discovery, a woman is found dead on the Ryders' farm - a stranger to the Ryders, but not to Plant. She is the woman he overheard in The Grave Maurice.
Together with Jury, Nell's family, and the Cambridgeshire police, Plant embarks on a search to find Nell and bring her home. But is there more to their mission than just restoring a fifteen-year-old girl to her family?
In the 18th entry in this popular series (after 2001's The Blue Last), Grimes serves up a convoluted hodgepodge of rape, kidnapping and murder, then throws in corporate greed, animal rights issues and assorted satires of modern British society. Supt. Jury is hospitalized following a shooting in an earlier case. His aristocratic assistant, Melrose Plant (aka Lord Ardry) overhears two women in a pub curiously called the Grave Maurice discussing the disappearance of horse enthusiast Nell Ryder, who turns out to be the daughter of Jury's doctor, the first of many implausible coincidences. Nell's devoted 16-year-old cousin, who's also named Maurice, has been in a grave mood following Nell's apparent abduction. This poor lad must also cope with his father's death, his mother's flight to America and a growth spurt that has left him too tall to be a jockey, his life's ambition. Most of this long and winding tale deals with the world of horse racing and its seamier sides. Pregnant mares are being badly treated at a stud farm where their urine is collected for a commercial menopause drug. People and prize thoroughbreds get snatched away in the night, and, to the dismay of his elders, a greedy stepbrother has left the Ryder farm to peddle IPOs in London. Jury's investigation gets off to a tardy start, by which time Plant has dug himself in deep, even buying his own horse to try to understand the lore of racing. Frequent digressions divert the sleuths (and the reader) from the investigative trail.