On a bone-chilling October weekend in 1936, drafty Haling Castle, sparingly refurbished by conservative MP Leo Scannon, is the site of a less-than-amiable house party attended by several pro-Hitlerites, an American millionaire, an English bounder, a lord, another MP, an economist, a beautiful seductress, assorted wives, and plummy Edward Corinth. The latter has been asked, sotto voce, by his host and Lord Weaver, the publisher of the New Gazette, to sidle up to another guest, Molly Harkness, a former mistress of Edward VIII, and retrieve the letters she stole from the King’s latest inamorata, Wallis Simpson, which His Highness had indiscreetly penned himself. Instead, Molly dies, then Scannon. The letters, of course, vanish, and it is up to Corinth to work out who among the guests most wished to use them to embarrass the King, the admirers of Hitler and Oswald Mosley or those gentlemen present who had taken their turns between the Harkness sheets. Corinth ultimately figures out a timetable detailing who was in which boudoir or skulking about which draughty corridor, but not before his own romantic dalliance with that gorgeous seductress has thoroughly miffed his friend and sleuthing partner, communist-leaning reporter Verity Browne (Bones of the Buried, 2001, etc.).
Roberts combines elements of the locked-room puzzle with French farce. But he’s strongest when he’s documenting workers’ marches, Mosley’s rantings, the King’s pro-Hitler proclivities, and the unsuitability of Mrs. Simpson as Queen.