When Scotland Yard superintendent Duncan Kincaid takes Gemma, Kit, and Toby for a holiday visit to his family in Cheshire, Gemma is soon entranced with Nantwich's pretty buildings and the historic winding canal, and young Kit is instantly smitten with his cousin Lally.
But their visit is marred by family tensions exacerbated by the unraveling of Duncan's sister Juliet's marriage. And tensions are brought to the breaking point on Christmas Eve with Juliet's discovery of a mummified infant's body interred in the wall of an old dairy barn—a tragedy hauntingly echoed by the recent drowning of Peter Llewellyn, a schoolmate of Lally's.
Meanwhile, on her narrowboat, former social worker Annie Lebow is living a life of self-imposed isolation and preparing for a lonely Christmas, made more troubling by her meeting earlier in the day with the Wains, a traditional boating family whose case precipitated Annie's leaving her job.
As the police make their inquiries into the infant's death, Kincaid discovers that life in the lovely market town of his childhood is far from idyllic and that the dreaming reaches of the Shropshire Union Canal hold dark and deadly secrets . . . secrets that may threaten everything and everyone he holds most dear.
The start of Crombie's solid 11th contemporary police procedural featuring Duncan Kincaid of Scotland Yard and Gemma James of the Notting Hill Metropolitan Police (after 2004's In a Dark House) finds the two detectives, also romantic partners, in the English countryside with their children to celebrate Christmas with Kincaid's family. But the trip turns into a busman's holiday when Kincaid's sister, Juliet Newcombe, finds the mummified corpse of an infant in the wall of a building she's renovating. That discovery proves but the first of many mysteries that soon invade the quiet Cheshire community a woman who once worked as a social worker is murdered, and Juliet finds evidence that her own husband and his partner may be embezzlers. Crombie's combination of the fair-play whodunit with a psychological examination of her characters may remind some readers of P.D. James, but her sleuths lack the depth of James's Commander Dalgleish.