What’s the connection between a stately home and a house of ill repute?
Rupert Fiennes is thrilled to dump Walbrook Manor, Yorkshire, in the hands of the National Trust and take up residence in a flat with all the mod cons, but his dear cousin Mary-Elizabeth is saddened at the prospect. Sir Stafford Quarles, representing a different branch of the original owners and eager to establish himself as Lord of the Manor, has assumed chairmanship of the Walbrook Trust, slipped a proviso into the deed that he and his wife will have tenancy there and ruthlessly hired and fired board members to insure his plans for the property, which include a fete replicating the musical song cycle performed there back in 1939. Once novelist Felicity Peace joins the board, she and her copper husband Charlie (The Killings on Jubilee Terrace, 2009, etc.) wonder what else Sir Stafford has up his sleeve now that he’s fired the former Manor museum director, the current one may be on his way out, and archival papers are missing. Some of these documents focused on the Manor’s peace seminars, which attracted the surprising attention of a Fifth Column of Nazi sympathizers. When old bones are dredged up from a nearby pond, Charlie, anxious to put a name to them, discovers a surfeit of missing ladies in the Manor’s history—especially Sir Stafford’s mum, who according to one story died of ill health and according to another decamped to London and ran a posh wartime brothel, which, as it happens, both Mary-Elizabeth and Lady Quarles know a thing or two about.
Red herrings, upstairs-downstairs brouhaha and more than a whiff of scandal from Barnard, who has handled it all in slightly better form before.