Benny Keegan, 12, sleeps under Waterloo Bridge and scrapes together a living running errands. His best friend is Gemma Trimm, 9, imaginative ward of elderly magnate Oliver Tynedale. Gemma, who likens herself to Little Nell, claims someone is trying to kill her. But Inspector Richard Jury (The Lamorna Wink, 1999, etc.) is visiting Tynedale Lodge with other ends: to investigate the murder of Simon Croft, son of Tynedale’s friend and partner Francis, and to probe a potential 60-year-old crime uncovered by DCI Mickey Haggerty. London’s last bombsite, a pub called The Blue Last, has finally been excavated, revealing the bodies of Tynedale’s daughter Alexandra and a baby. Alexandra had been at the pub with Kitty, her nanny, and their very young daughters, Maisie and Erin, respectively. The surviving little girl has grown up as Maisie Tynedale. But Haggerty thinks she is Erin. Would Kitty kill to protect her secret? As usual, Grimes crowds her tale with unexpected characters—there’s a chapter told from the perspective of Benny’s dog, Sparky—and crisscrossing subplots. Haggerty is rapidly dying of cancer; his wife Liza is Jury’s old flame. Haunted by childhood memories of the Blitz, Jury seeks answers about his mother. Meanwhile, his sidekick Melrose Plant journeys to Florence with the obligatory wealthy madcaps to authenticate a work of Renaissance art. It’s Benny’s five employers, all with colorful backstories, who eventually point Jury and Melrose to the surprising but logical solution.
Some of the interweaving is ingenious, though loose ends still dangle. Even so, Grimes’s delicious people portraits and elegant prose are as entertaining as ever.