The Christmas rush must wait while antiquarian bookseller Dido Hoare (Die Once, 2003, etc.) is caught between a dismembered corpse and the London police.
Harry Lewis may be only a street person, but sightings of him are never without interest. When Dido’s young son Ben first spots him one evening, his attention is drawn to Harry’s monkey. When Harry follows Dido into her bookshop, he produces a copy of James Andrews’s Victorian Lessons in Flower Painting, whose hand-colored illustrations provoke Dido to offer Harry a fast £500, which he declines without comment. Most interesting of all is a discovery Harry makes in a nearby dustbin before vanishing: the torso and left arm of an unidentified female. Detective Sergeant Laura Smiley has no idea who the dead woman could be, and Police Constable Ken Acker seems to be too busy beating his wife, an old customer of Dido’s, to take much interest. So Dido teams up with her friend, crime reporter Chris Kennedy, and her father, retired Oxford professor Barnabas Hoare, to trace the remains. Their investigation brings them up against several unsavory characters, from retired prostitute Annie Kelly to drug seller Georgie McIntyre, before a muffled conclusion arrives just in time for Christmas.
Throughout it all, Macdonald struggles admirably but not always successfully to bridge the gap between the cozy circle of Dido’s extended family, notable for the warmth between her and her father, and the sordid crimes she’s stumbled onto this time.