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One morning, a haystack is seen to be on fire at the desolate farm of Great Lands and when the police go to investigate, they find the bodies of Harry Quill, the owner, and his wife lying on the doorstep. He is dead and she is unconscious. Mrs. Quill, an invalid, had apparently burned the stack to give the alarm. She died in hospital later without recovering consciousness.
Already engaged in a nationwide investigation into the Black Lot - a gang of criminals raiding isolated farms - Chief Superintendent Littlejohn and Inspector Cromwell become involved in the murder case. However, on the very night of Quill’s death, the Black Lot are arrested in the North of Scotland. Surely they cannot be involved?
The Quill family is old and widespread, a closed shop to all except its own, who know all its many secrets and discuss them freely behind closed doors but are silent about them in public. They are headed by Aunt Clara, a very formidable old lady whom they all respect and greatly fear. Littlejohn finds himself battling with Clara Quill and her crafty lawyers several times before he finally finds out who killed Harry.