When a taciturn farmhand finds Claude Selwood dead on his farm, windpipe crushed by a horse, no one mourns his passing. Clare Yarwood views the death as accidental, but Keith Tremayne, cynical from his years on the force, knows someone wanted the “right bastard” dead and finds no shortage of suspects. In fact, as soon as he walks into the family farmhouse, he meets his first ones: Selwood’s hard, judgmental wife, Marge, who describes her late husband as “pig-headed, always doing what he shouldn’t;” their three sons, Gordon, Nicholas, and William; and Gordon’s new wife, Cathy. All had reason to murder the man: instead of a contemporary will leaving the farm to his wife, Claude followed the archaic practice of primogeniture and left everything to his eldest son, Gordon, effectively stripping his wife and younger sons of a home and fortune.
With the help of crime scene examiner Jim Hughes, Tremayne and Yarwood soon find who spooked the horse that killed Selwood, but the mystery deepens as first the taciturn farmhand, Old Ted, then Cathy, Gordon’s wife, are murdered. Crispin, Gordon’s heretofore-ignored son from a teenaged liaison, is also injured in a hit-and-run accident, although his wounds aren’t life-threatening, and his mother, Rose, contacts the family for the first time in seventeen years, fearing for her only child’s life. Marge alternately rants at her eldest son and late spouse, while pretending affection toward her grandson and plotting revenge with her younger children. And in her battle to wrest back the farm from her son, she ruthlessly brandishes her trump card: having bedded other men before marrying Claude well into her pregnancy, it’s more than likely that Gordon isn’t his son, a fact that will allow her to usurp her late husband’s will and preside once more over the property she views as her due.
As with all Tremayne mysteries, there are many conflicting interests, gossipy neighbors, back stabbers, political and social climbers, and innocent victims in need of relief. Tremayne and Yarwood meet them all, but ultimately pierce the veil of bullshit to discover not only the murderer, but another Selwood family secret so explosive that it not only threatens to destroy the family, but the village of Coombe, forever endangering the Selwood power that has held the village hostage.
Phillip Strang has produced a fourth compelling novel of the old detective and his young female partner, a pairing that appears inexplicable to outsiders, but the headstrong Tremayne respects the sharp instincts of his younger colleague and values her fresh insights above the tired tropes of older, jaded officers. Theirs is a pairing for the twenty-first century, dispelling ancient forces of darkness with modern insight and unbreakable trust.