In the quiet, English countryside an old lady dies in her bed at the local nursing home. Janet Wakefield receives notification—her husband Bill, who is stationed in South America by his company, is the next of kin—which is a surprise because neither of them even knew Josephine Short existed.
Sent to make the funeral arrangements, Janet discovers that all the particulars have been laid out by the decedent. The church, the hotel and “bun wrestle”, as the reception is described, and the ‘no flowers’ request are already in place. She shows up for the funeral service to find several of the local villagers: a friendly, old man who claims to have known Ms. Short, a beautiful, young lady with auburn hair and in the pew behind her, the nursing home matron as well as the attorney handling the estate. As the service starts, a tall, dark-haired, young man sits next to her on the pew reserved for family. Joe Short, the grandson.
Making the acquaintance of another family member previously unknown to them helps the Wakefields discover who Josephine Short is and where she fits into all their lives. The discovery that she is well off and has a large estate is even more confusing. When the auburn beauty’s body is found in the river under suspicious circumstances, the heirs are forced to reveal their alibis, which brings down suspicion on both of them, as well as a local thug whose mother was working at the nursing home.
When using material that Aird senses her reader may not have a complete understanding about, such as subject matter, she will have her characters ask questions to show their ignorance of the subject, which in turn edifies both the character and reader at the same time.
Aird weaves the red herrings and suspicions throughout the story, making you look back into the past pages for clues missed, words uttered that might have been a clue, a hint of foreshadowing glossed over until the pieces all fall together, making perfect sense of the tale.