May 1914. England may be on the brink of the Great War, but there's still time for open warfare between the British suffrage movement and a hostile government as suffragette-sleuth Nell Bray gets entangled in a family case that provides a peek into the past behind her tough public persona. Called to Devon about a cousin's missing daughter, Nell accidentally discovers her hanging over the river near the family boathouse. Verona North, passing into an adulthood far beyond her conventional upbringing, had plunged into London's bohemian art world only to end up back home pregnant, dead, and full of morphine. While her father, Commodore Benjamin North, blames Nell for the perversion of his perfect daughter, Nell wonders about the official verdict of suicide. She tracks Verona from her coastal childhood, where she spotted ships with godfather Admiral Archie Pritty, to her sudden recent involvement in radical politics and women's self-defense classes. Meantime, Nell is under surveillance by Scotland Yard for harboring fugitive suffragettes. When the infant secret service also begins trailing her, Nell determines that Verona had an undercover connection to them. Was that why she had been pumping Nell for information about antiwar groups and Emmeline Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union?
Though the villain is eminently predictable, Linscott maintains tension and surprise throughout a harrowing finale. Some delicious description (a Siamese cat is "draped over her shoulder like a long spillage of Devonshire cream") and expert manipulation of Nell's viewpoint: both make for a satisfying ninth outing (Absent Friends, 1999, etc.).