Detective Chief Superintendent Fran Harman is looking forward to her wedding to Mark Turner (also a high-ranking policeman. He’s the Assistant Chief Constable). Fran & Mark have bought an old rectory which needs a lot of work. During the renovations, a skeleton is discovered in the veggie patch. It turns out to be recent rather than archaeological so it becomes a murder enquiry. The rectory had been empty for over 10 years & the last owner was a headmistress, Marion Lovage. She had left the house to a charity looking after badgers on the proviso that it wasn’t sold for 10 years. The investigation into the skeleton’s identity becomes a search for the truth about Marion Lovage & the search for clues leads to secret drawers & hiding places in the antique furniture that Marion put into storage when she left her home.
Meanwhile, a young woman working as a prostitute confesses to stabbing a man who raped her but he ran off & can’t be found. Cynd’s description of him can’t be matched to CCTV footage of the area where she lives & Fran feels she’s hiding something but can’t gain her confidence. The only person Cynd will speak to is Rev Janie Falkirk, a friend of Fran’s, but Janie has just been diagnosed with breast cancer & is about to have surgery. When a young man with a stab wound (but not matching Cynd’s description) is found lying in waste ground, Fran finds that Cynd has disappeared.
Fran & Mark’s forthcoming wedding is causing problems with Mark’s two grown-up children. His daughter, Sammie, has taken over his house & changed the locks. She won’t speak to her father & he’s had to resort to solicitor’s letters & threatening her with the bailiffs. Mark’s son, David, arrives from the US full of hostility towards his father & Fran. Mark’s awareness of just how absent a father he was when his children were growing up makes him feel guilty & unable to deal with the problems they’re now causing. Fran tries to stay out of the way but she’s increasingly worried about Mark’s health & state of mind as the stress of the job collides with his personal problems & expensive delays on the renovations on the rectory. A new Chief Constable with very different ideas & a desire to clear out the older officers doesn’t help.
It’s been a while since I’ve read one of this series (I’ve just checked & it’s been four years since the previous book so that’s why!). I’ve enjoyed previous books in this series & it was good to catch up with Fran again. Her job has become more about meetings & budgets than investigative work but she always manages to find a way into current investigations. This time she has to tread carefully as she has so many conflicts of interest & several touchy subordinates who don’t want her interfering in their cases. I did find the personal complications taking over the story a bit too much. There was less police work & more personal angst in this book & I don’t think the balance was quite right. Two high-ranking police officers should have been able to organise their lives a little better than Fran & Mark managed to do. However, the actual investigation into the skeleton in the veggie patch was intriguing & I especially enjoyed the young antiques expert brought in to find all the hidden drawers & clues in Marion Lovage’s furniture. Her method of using her psychic abilities as well as practical knowledge of antiques clashed with Kim Thomas, the young detective heading up her first big case. I see that Judith Cutler has a new book in the series to be published next month so I’ll look forward to the next instalment in Fran & Mark’s story.