Author of several historical novels under the name Mary Lide (Polmena Cove, 1995, etc.), Clayton turns here to present-day Cornwall and a contemporary protagonist--ex-Police Inspector John Reynolds--an early retiree and successful writer of detective fiction who lives alone in the once-thriving, now threadbare village of St. Breddaford. Ted, the village tramp, has come upon a decapitated body on the far reaches of Hanscastle Farm, and young local Constable Derrymore, out of his depth and aware of Reynolds's past, asks him for unofficial help, even though Chief Inspector Clemow (an old enemy of Reynolds's) has been put in charge. Clemow is swift to arrest schoolmaster Peter Burns when the corpse is identified as his missing wife Marilyn, but a second killing casts doubt on that decision. Meanwhile, Reynolds talks at length with Lady Rowan, the widowed, self-appointed guardian of the town's image, who seems more distraught about the trashing of the flower pots she'd installed on the green than about the murder, or the months-long absence of her only daughter. Village gossip about the area's little band of New Age Travellers (formerly known as hippies); rumors of witches and ritual sacrifice; a third death and the imminent approach of Midsummer's Eve all spur Reynolds and Derrymore to put the pieces together and save another innocent victim. The village and its characters are done to a turn, but the plot is unhinged; the pace and sense of menace are eventually undermined by the author's purply prose and too many of Reynolds's inner musings. Murky but mildly engrossing.