Christmas dinner will just have to wait for murder.
Scotland Yard inspectors Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, along with his son Kit and her son Toby, barely get through the door of Duncan’s parents’ house in Cheshire for a holiday visit when his sister Juliet, a building renovator, calls him out to her job site, where she’s uncovered the body of a baby mortared into a barn wall. While Duncan and Ronnie Babcock, an inspector in the local CID, try to identify it, young Kit finds the corpse of his friend Annie Lebow, a retired social worker who’s been living on a narrowboat. The discovery revives nightmare memories of his own mother’s death. The Wains, narrowboaters and former clients of Annie’s, are determined to keep mum about their run-ins with Social Services. Meanwhile, Juliet’s marriage disintegrates under the gleeful eye of her husband’s business partner Piers, whose son Leo, together with Juliet’s daughter Lally, seem determined to corrupt young Kit. Duncan, hard-pressed to soothe Kit, placates Gemma (who’s angered that she’s babysitting instead of participating in the murder investigation), defends his sister, works the two cases and eventually discovers something rather unsurprising—that family reunions are less friendly than one might expect.
The narrowboats are intriguing, and it’s comforting to think that Gemma and Duncan are together for the long haul, but Crombie needs to curb her love for red herrings, which swell her plot to fantastic proportions.