This is an engaging update of a classic English village murder mystery. It has all the right ingredients, the murder of an unpopular man at his home in a small village, a tight web of secrets and relationships and an investigation lead by an outsider who has to penetrate both to come to a solution. Deborah Crombie takes this rather moth eaten scaffold and builds on it with care and considerable ingenuity, she develops her mystery with scrupulous attention to detail and clever updating. The murder victim is a senior policeman from London, the investigation is lead by another police officer from London, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid who is assisted by Sergeant Gemma James. They have a ruptured relationship which plays out across the story, it is not intrusive and it is managed with considerable restraint, it is however the least interesting aspect to the book. It does give some depth to the principal players and does weave nicely into other interactions among the cast, overall it struck me as more set dressing than critical to the book.
The heart of the book is the unravelling of the mystery, who killed Alistair Gilbert and why? This is done exceptionally well, the story unrolls at a deliberate pace and the small cast and restrictive context are used with great skill. The pacing of the reveals and the responses of the cast are beautifully judged, the interlocking elements of the puzzle are put into place with skill. The cast are well described and the action is natural and flowing, the motives are sharp and pungent, there is nothing old-fashioned about the action. Superb craftsmanship and deep talent have combined to deliver a very satisfactory and enjoyable read.