Combe Island off the Cornish coast has a bloodstained history of piracy and cruelty but now, privately owned, it offers respite to over-stressed men and women in positions of high authority who require privacy and guaranteed security. But the peace of Combe is violated when one of the distinguished visitors is bizarrely murdered.
Adam Dalgliesh is called in to solve the mystery quickly and discreetly, but at a difficult time for him and his depleted team. Dalgliesh is uncertain about his future with Emma Lavenham, the woman he loves, Detective Inspector Kate Miskin has her own emotional problems and the ambitious Anglo-Indian Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith is worried about working under Kate. Hardly have the team begun to unravel the complicated motives of the suspects that there is a second brutal killing and the whole investigation is jeopardised when Dalgliesh is faced with a danger more insidious and as potentially fatal as murder.
British master James's 13th Adam Dalgliesh mystery, like its two predecessors, The Murder Room (2003) and Death in Holy Orders (2001), focuses at first on a hostile character who threatens to shatter a longstanding way of life. Acclaimed novelist Nathan Oliver incurs the wrath of his fellow residents on Combe Island, a private property off the Cornish coast used as an exclusive retreat by movers and shakers in many fields. When Oliver is murdered, Scotland Yard dispatches Dalgliesh and two of his team to Combe, where the commander checks alibis and motives in his trademark understated manner. Because the detective's new romantic attachment is more of a backstory than in The Murder Room, it intrudes less on the murder inquiry. The solution, which hinges on the existence of an unknown child, is less than fully satisfactory and also borrows elements from some of James's recent plots. Devotees more interested in her hero's personal growth than his deductive technique will find much to enjoy. 300,000 first printing; author tour.