Thomas Lynley, Barbara Havers, and others are back after some fairly harrowing events in previous novels.
Havers has a transfer to Berwick-on-Tweed hanging over her, with Chief Superintendent Ardery ready to sign it at the least excuse. She's gotten completely restrained in dress and behavior--and Lynley feels he's effectively lost the use of his partner, previously an excellent detective. Havers needs some leeway if she's to do anything useful. Dorothea Harriman, department secretary, tries befriending Havers in the hope of changing her focus just a bit, with mixed results.
Then a famous feminist author Havers has met briefly, Clare Abbott, dies suddenly, and her editor, Rory Statham, doesn't believe it's "just" a heart attack. At Havers' urging, Lynley pushes for and gets a second autopsy--which finds evidence of poison, specifically sodium azide.
Then Statham is found barely alive, apparently of the same poison.
Lynley and Havers have no idea how complex this murder investigation is about to get.
Lynley works the London end, including keeping Ardery from pulling them off of it, while Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata go to Abbott's home in Shaftesbury, and start digging into the life of the dead woman and those around her. This turns out to mean, mostly, her assistant, Caroline Goldacre, her two grown sons (one of them dead of suicide), her second husband, and their complicated extended family.
This is a hefty and character-driven story, and despite being #19 in a mystery series I haven't read before, it really drew me in. These are complicated, flawed, and likable (sometimes oddly likable) characters. Despite all the backstory that obviously exists, there are enough information salted in skillfully and undistractingly to let someone new to the series get with the flow and enjoy this story. The unfolding of the complex story of why Clare Abbott died and who was responsible is also extremely well done.
I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via Penguin's First to Read program.