Caudwell, who died this past January, managed in just three books (The Sirens Sang of Murder, 1989, etc.) to achieve cult status for her gleefully barbed wit and erudition. Nobody, however, raved about her plotting, and her long-awaited fourth mixes her best and worst.
Narrated once again by the gender-unspecific Hilary Tamar, legal historian at St. George’s College, Oxford, the tale asks whether one of businessman Sir Robert Renfrew's possible successors, Geoffrey Bolton or Edgar Albany, is leaking takeover information. Hilary's London lawyer pals get involved when Julia Larwood's Aunt Reg, down in the country, and her own pals—St. Ethel's vicar Maurice and gardener Griselda—make a tidy bundle off these stock tips. Hilary wonders if the tips are tied to the mysterious gent in the black Mercedes that’s been visiting local clairvoyant Isabella del Comino, whose idea of home decor is swooping ravens, a hungry vulture, and a locked cabinet containing (ahem) The Book. When Isabella dies, her needy charge, the hapless Daphne, latches on to Maurice and appoints herself Custodian of The Book. Soon after, a mysterious young man appears and goes off to Italy with Maurice. Meantime, Sir Robert, who’s been having his estimable secretary tail his CEO wannabes, comes down with food poisoning. Maurice dies; Daphne too. And Hilary comes up with three separate solutions to the infuriatingly overstuffed mystery.
Despite a superb barrage of letters from Aunt Reg to Julia, a hilarious send-up of refurbishing pitfalls, and a clever use of mothballs, there are too many coincidences and jaunts to the pub en route to a most unlikely confession. An imperfect wrap-up to an all-too-short career.