The citizens of Inspector Alan Markby's bailiwick--Bamford, in the Cotswolds--have mixed feelings about the opening of historic, totally refurbished Springwood Hall as an upscale country hotel, owned by Swiss ex-hockey star Eric Schuhmacher. Amply proportioned Hope Mapple of the Preservation Society has threatened to streak at the gala reception; and Zoe Foster, penniless young owner of the Alice Batt Rest Home for horses, an eyesore adjoining the hotel, knows she'll soon be evicted. Television cookery star Denis Fulton and his rich, new wife Leah have been invited, as have local businesspeople, among them Ellen Bryant and Charles Grimsby. Meanwhile, Markby's girlfriend Meredith has come from London, and it's she who discovers Ellen Bryant's body--stabbed to death--as the guests are being shown the wine cellars. Markby's investigation (a series of dull interviews) will be interrupted by the disappearance of his 11-year-old niece Emma--and an unlikely romance develops, even as Markby and Meredith's goes its different way. No excitement there, and not much in the unconvincing motivation and balky plotting here: the fourth--and least compelling--of a series (Cold in the Earth, p. 143, etc.).