An old-fashioned whodunit with the style and deviousness you’d expect from a master storyteller.
The day after publisher Edgar Blacker addresses the Chichester Writing Circle, someone pours petrol through the letter slot in his door and incinerates him and almost everything inside. The police ask Maurice, the writing circle chairman, to help them with their inquiries. They learn Blacker was refusing to publish Maurice’s book unless he subsidized the print run and promptly arrest him. Rushing to his defense, several members of the circle begin their own investigation, calling on Bob Naylor, a new participant, to act as their spokesman. Poor Bob. When he tries to help out Miss Snow, who’s received a mysterious phone call, he’s waylaid in a boathouse and almost burned to death himself. After two more fires further winnow the circle membership, Detective Chief Inspector Henrietta (Hen) Mallin from Bognor (The House Sitter, 2003) is called in to deal with the arsons, the murders, the circle members’ egos and an unknown member of the constabulary leaking information. Frazzled and almost flummoxed by the writers playing amateur detective, Hen ultimately narrows her field of suspects and sets a trap for the villain.
Lovesey, who can out–Christie Dame Agatha when he sets his mind to it, offers a smorgasbord of red herrings, a nifty plot twist, charming bits of doggerel and delicious digs at writers of the unpublishable.