A pile of bones brings a heap of trouble for private investigator Jennie Redhead in 1974.
Jennie will do just about anything for Charlie Swift, the bursar at St. Luke’s College who befriended the Oxford undergrad when she was just a shy, state-educated girl from the north trying, not very successfully, to fit in with her posh southern classmates. Now that Jennie’s finished her degree and is living on her own and working as a private detective, she gets a chance to repay her old friend by helping him find out whose bones were hidden years ago in a ventilation shaft under the De Courcey Quad. The remains, definitely determined to be human, were discovered by workmen searching for the source of an odd smell below the quad. Whoever put the bones into the vent, stonemason Jim Withnell explains, knew something about masonry since he used more pliable lime mortar instead of the quicker but more rigid Portland cement. Mr. Jenkins, head porter of St. Luke’s, swears he knows of no such repair in his time. The breach in the vent must date back to the time when Mr. Gough was head porter. But Gough retired in 1954. Unraveling a crime at least 20 years old would be a challenge for any detective, but it’s even harder for Jennie, who discovers that her client, Charlie Swift, has inconveniently disappeared. As Spencer’s second Redhead entry takes Jennie back over the course of not one but two world wars, it also takes an increasing toll on a friendship she thought would last a lifetime.
Like the lime-mortared shaft that sets the plot in motion, Spencer’s puzzle shows workmanship and beyond, since every piece must fit just so before the secret can be revealed.