On a bright autumn afternoon in Truro, the Napier family celebrates one couple’s golden wedding anniversary and another’s marriage. But for one member of the clan, the day turns dark. Chris Napier, prodigal son, suddenly spots the ragged specter of a former friend, Nicky Lanyon—a man whose own family was ruined by the same twist of fate with which the Napiers were blessed. And the next morning, Chris is horrified to find Nicky dead, hanging from a tree where the boys once played….
For Chris, the suicide opens a floodgate of doubt and suspicion. How did his family’s wealth slip out of the hands of a great-uncle, brutally murdered before he could change his will? Were the men convicted of the crime truly guilty? And who is the mysterious, seductive woman who claims to know the Napiers’ darkest secrets? As the crimes of two families are exposed, a series of violent acts shadows him and suddenly Chris knows he’s in uncharted waters…until a killer drops one last disguise—for the ultimate act of revenge.
As he does so smoothly and so well (Out of the Sun, etc.), Goddard again creates a narrator who uncovers secrets buried in the past that cast grim shadows on later generations. Here he takes classic English mystery staples--a grand old house in Cornwall, a family fortune in dispute, murder and blackmail--and concocts an absorbing suspense novel with a modern sensibility. Alienated from his family for some years, Chris Napier returns home to the Cornish town of Truro for his niece's wedding at Tredower House, the family estate (now a hotel and conference center) bequeathed by his adventurous great uncle, Joshua Carnoweth. Guests are reminded of an unpleasant event when Chris's boyhood friend, Nicky Lanyon, shows up at the reception to announce that his father, who was hanged for the murder of Uncle Joshua, was innocent of the deed. Nicky culminates his plea by committing suicide. In Nicky's memory, Chris investigates the 34-year-old murder case, while one mysterious woman goes after his money and another wins his heart. Goddard intricately interweaves the life stories of three generations, adding texture to the parallel plots: the love between his great-uncle and Nicky's grandmother, the moral crises of the WWII generation and Chris's own tale of 1960s rebellion. As usual, Goddard is meticulous with background details and local color, and his characters, with their good manners and dark secrets, seem to have stepped out of a Daphne Du Maurier novel. There are enough surprises in this tale of switched identities and lingering resentments to keep readers steadily engrossed.