In this wonderful entry in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, Inspector Rutledge inherits a mystery when the original investigator suddenly suffers a heart attack and dies in a small Cornwall town. Starting from scratch because the original statements and notes of his dead predecessor are missing, Rutledge finds four young women accused of murder by a local farmer while rowing on a river; their claim: they were attempting to save him when his boat sank.
The victim, while in a coma, could not provide any facts, and when he dies of a head injury the charge becomes one of murder. It remains for Rutledge either to prove or disprove the charge. While seeking the truth of the matter, including motivation, Rutledge encounters additional murders and assaults and the question arises: do these relate to the original case?
The mother-son writing team of this long-standing series takes a deep look into the personalities and motivations of the characters as Rutledge delves into the process of clearing the young women as he becomes more aware of the situation. As is a constant in the series, Rutledge is haunted by his experiences on the Western Front during the Great War, and the descriptions of the Cornwall area on the northern coast and speech of its inhabitants are skillfully done.