Inspector (now Chief Inspector) Alec Stainton goes back to the distant past, as in last year's The Noose of Time, to find the motive for the shooting of military-historian Andrew Hunter on a Sussex airfield planted with barley. Hunter had been invited to address an RAF reunion at Hartfield Park; and with the help of executive-rival historian Dr. Frances Walker, Alec narrows the list of suspects down to four RAF veterans now visiting from South Africa: Bill Janssen, Stu Phillips, Cedric Dixon, and Kenny Taylor. But James Parker, the farmer who discovered the corpse, behaves more suspiciously than any of these men—and so do his wife and mother. Although a murderous attack on the son of another Hartfield veteran makes it clear that Hunter was killed to hide a secret he'd discovered, all the suspects seem to be hiding something—a missing 12-gauge shotgun, an illegitimate child, accusations of cowardice, and a final revelation of treachery beyond treachery that will leave most readers at the post. The plot takes a while to gather steam—the suspects aren't very distinct from each other; periodic flashbacks to 1944 slow down the action they illuminate; and newly bereaved Alec is so muffled he could be any of a dozen less engaging fictional detectives—but the story repays all the patience it demands.
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