The discovery of a zircon in Dilys Benton’s engagement ring sends sparks flying in her rich, dysfunctional family.
Holland and Butcher, a training facility for domestic workers, has been longing to ally itself with the Abbot Agency, which supplies trained workers to upscale families. So it’s small surprise to Bea Abbot (False Alarm, 2013, etc.) when Sybil Holland brings her terrified niece to Bea’s office after discovering that the stone in Dilys’ ring is a fake. Dilys is afraid to acknowledge the substitution, made by her husband, Ben, to raise money to placate an ex-girlfriend. She’s even more frightened of Ben, who terrorizes her and their daughter, Bernice, while allowing their two sons to run wild. When Dilys turn up half dead in her bath, attempted suicide seems the most logical assumption. But Leon, Sybil’s brother, suspects foul play. Bea resists the man’s entreaties to help prove Ben a danger to his niece. Leon’s a charmer, showering Bea with tempting dinner invites. He’s also a liar, claiming alternately to be an undischarged bankrupt or the owner of a large chain of dry cleaners. It takes Bea's son Max, a Member of Parliament, who reveals that he’s relying on a partnership with shady Ben to raise his profile, to prod Bea into action. Her first attempt to investigate via the Internet proves a blind alley: There seems to be no trace of Ben Benton in cyberspace. Frustration only prompts Bea to press on. With help from her protégés Maggie and Oliver, and the blessing of Inspector Durrell of the local nick, she continues to seek the key that will free Dilys from her abusive husband.
A pedestrian solution proves Heley slightly off her game in her eighth Abbott entry.