The Midsomer Worthy’s Writers’ Circle has never had much luck in attracting guest speakers. Consequently, there is much surprise—and, in the case of the Circle’s secretary, Gerald Hadleigh, a furious, inexplicable objection—when best-selling novelist Max Jennings accepts their invitation. Surprise turns into a variety of responses when Hadleigh is found dead the morning after Jennings’ visitation. Chief Inspector Barnaby soon determines that the key to solving the murder will lie with the illustrious Jennings. There’s only one problem: he has disappeared.
Many elements in Graham's Chief Inspector Barnaby mysteries harken back to Christie: a small English village setting, a cast of odd characters, a sagacious inspector with his loyal sergeant. In this fourth entry, following Death in Disguise, the Midsomer Worthy Writers' Circle invites author Max Jennings to speak to them. Circle member Gerald Hadleigh is opposed to the choice but refuses to explain. He asks fellow member Rex St. John to stay with him throughout Jennings's visit. But after the event, the elderly St. John is tricked into departing, leaving Hadleigh alone with Jennings. The next morning, Hadleigh is found bludgeoned to death and Jennings is gone. The members of the Writers' Circle respond variously. St. John falls into a deep depression; Laura Hutton, whose love of the victim was unrequited, pitches into a days-long crying and drinking jag; Honoria Lyddiard evinces little reaction; her sister-in-law, Amy, and Sue Clapton are suitably shocked. Sue's husband, Brian, seems almost ``gleeful.'' The skill with which Graham evokes these characters and explores their individual, often damaged, emotional histories rings of Rendell and P.D. James. The few too many coincidences in the plot will be forgiven for the crisp pace and satisfying twist at the end.