’Tis the week before Christmas, and inquiry agent William Monk’s ex-boss Supt. Runcorn, having decided to get as far away from his depressing London beat as possible, runs into a brutal murder on an isolated Welsh isle.
Anglesey would be a perfect setting for the midwinter holidays if it weren’t so bleak and lonely, and if Supt. Runcorn had someone he loved to celebrate with, and if it weren’t the current home to Melisande Ewart, who antagonized her brother, John Barclay, by identifying the victim and testifying against the killer in one of Runcorn’s cases. And, of course, if it weren’t for the sudden death of Olivia Costain, the vicar’s sister, sensitive and lively but widely accounted a bit of a child. Now the child, stabbed in the stomach, will never grow old. Sgt. Warner, the local constable, is clearly out past his depth, and Melisande’s fiancé Sir Alan Faraday, when he arrives from Caernarfon to take charge of the case, seems so intent on soothing troubled waters that he ignores the one fact clear to Runcorn from the beginning: that Olivia knew her killer and felt comfortable with him.
The investigation is ill-paced, with repetitive rounds of questioning suddenly yielding climactic revelations for no good reason, and the murderer is negligible. Perry’s fifth seasonal bouquet (A Christmas Secret, 2006, etc.) works best as a study of Runcorn’s lower-class inhibitions and how he learns to deal with them.