When country milkman Martin Snell makes his usual delivery to Celandine Cottage one spring morning in Kent, he expects to be greeted by the cottage's sensual and seductive tenant, Gabriella Patten, not by the charred remains of fire pointing to murder.
The suspicious remains bring Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his partner Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers out of their London territory and into conflict with the local investigator. Treading carefully, they begin investigating the ripples of shock spreading outward from the crime: from Gabriella Patten's husband to Kenneth Fleming, a member of the national cricket team, and his estranged wife, whose hopes for a reconciliation have been permanently smashed; from a wealthy widow who has allowed a much younger man to live his dream of playing cricket, to her wayward daughter, faced with a devastating choice.
All of England, as well as the magnetic world of national cricket, soon discovers itself reeling from the shock of this particular crime, and Lynley and Havers find themselves working the most frustrating - and politically dangerous - case of their careers.
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