A summons to Suffolk in search of a stolen painting turns into something considerably darker for thriller writer/detective Donald Langham.
As Neston Manor, Lord Teddy Elsmere’s mortgaged estate, crumbles around him in the winter of 1956, he still prides himself on a few choice possessions. So he’s not best pleased when one of them, Gainsborough’s Suffolk Pastoral, goes missing. It’s particularly awkward that there’s no evidence of a break-in and that the frame has vanished along with the painting—two hints to local DI Montgomery that Elsmere may have spirited away his own prize for the insurance. Of course he hasn’t, huffs the widowed aristocrat. But he’s even unhappier to think that the thief might be one of his tenants or guests: his son and heir, Dudley Mariner; Dudley’s strapping fiancee, sculptress Esmeralda Bellamy; aspiring author Rebecca Miles; Patrick Verlinden, a Dutch flier who served with the RAF in the war; or longtime resident Maj. William Rutherford, whose financial situation is even more dire than his host’s. Brought down to Neston by his literary agent and Elsmere’s friend, Charles Elder, Langham settles in for several soothing rounds of Q-and-A with all the suspects except Verlinden, who’s disappeared. He’s as surprised as anyone when a chance discovery he makes among Verlinden’s effects leads him to the missing painting and when the missing man turns up as dead as Gainsborough. Verlinden’s murder provides the cue for Langham’s increasingly pointed questions to begin excavating the secrets, motives, and clues Brown (Murder Takes a Turn, 2018, etc.) has distributed generously throughout the household and the nearby village. Some of these are relevant, some aren’t, but they’re all more or less equally interesting until the very last one, which reveals unsuspected depths at Neston Manor.
Nothing new here, but Brown keeps the parade of obligatory red herrings moving along smartly until his hero finds just the cottage he and his wife have been looking for in a neighboring Suffolk village. Whew.