A desperate plea for help from a schoolboy sucks Scotland Yard Detective Joe Sandilands into a case that could end his career.
Jackie Drummond’s mother had once used Joe in an attempt to conceive, so there’s a chance that young Jackie could be Joe’s son. Because his parents live in colonial India, Jackie attends St. Magnus, a Sussex boarding school. When a schoolmaster who was about to give him a beating is murdered, Jackie runs off to London, where “Uncle Joe” takes him in and prepares to return him, even though all is far from normal back at school. Before they leave, Joe is called into a meeting with high government officials who give him the vague assignment of investigating St. Magnus. Joe takes along Dorcas Joliffe, a tough young family friend whose psychology degree will turn out to be an asset. Over the years, a number of troublesome boys have left St. Magnus school and have never taken up their rightful place in life. The latest goes missing under the noses of Joe, Dorcas and Mr. Gosling, an MI5 agent posing as a teacher. Joe, Dorcas and Gosling end up investigating what turns out to be a troubling case indeed. Too many people connected with the school over the years have had an interest in eugenics and believe only the best and brightest should be allowed to breed. The shadow of Nazi Germany looms large over the case, which becomes more horrific with every new discovery.
As usual, Cleverly (The Blood Royal, 2011, etc.) neatly captures the style and feeling of the period between the world wars and provides plenty of mystery, suspense and danger.