A vicar and his wife substitute for an Oxfordshire prelate on Christmas vacation.
Anyone would leap at the chance to leave grimy 1890 London for the village of Cottisham, and Rev. Dominic Corde and Clarice, his bride of a year, are delighted to make the change. The locals are obviously attached to Rev. Wynter, the elderly vicar whose place Dominic will assume for the Christmas season, even though two of his closest friends have recently quarreled with him for reasons that remain obscure. Sir Peter Connaught, the local squire, speaks of their break more in sorrow than in anger, and John Boscombe, the vicar’s former right-hand-man, doesn’t speak of it at all. Soon enough Clarice discovers that Rev. Wynter’s holiday took him no farther than the coke cellar, where he’s lying with wounds that can’t be explained by a heart attack or an accidental fall. Dr. Fitzpatrick, who examines the body, is heavily skeptical about the possibility of foul play, and Sir Peter recoils from the idea that the death could have anything to do with his family. Yet someone’s professed love for the vicar was clearly a mask for something far more disturbing.
As usual with Perry (Dark Assassin, 2006, etc.), the setup is more rewarding than the payoff. Apart from the mystery, however, the parable of sin and redemption rings true.