In a lonely thicket of gorse near the Suffolk coast, a man lies dead on a summers afternoon: Frederick Quennell, amateur yachtsman and head of a successful local firm of printers. Later examining the site, Chief Superintendent Gently (newly married to Gabrielle Orbec, and reluctantly in charge of the investigation) wonders who wanted Quennell dead.
There is no shortage of suspects, as the Suffolk police point out. Quennell's neglected wife is deeply in love with an artist - a man moreover, who's been suspected of murder once before. What about Raymond Tallis, who headed the printing firm until Quennell took his place? Tallis's own family affairs are complex: his brother Arthur drowned in a yachting accident, with Tallis and Quennell both on board at the time, and Tallis then married his brother's widow . . .
In the tranquil Suffolk countryside, scented with heather and sea-breezes, Gently sets to work to disentangle the emotional bonds - the jealousy, love, hatred, and remorse - that enmesh the dead man's family and friends. And he starts by contemplating not just one previous death, but two . . .