While hiking in Cornwall Thomas Lynley finds the body of a mountain climber who fell after his equipment was damaged and helps local police find the climber's murderer. Six weeks after his pregnant wife's murder outside their London home Thomas Lynley was on an extended hike along the trails of Cornwall. He came upon the body of a young man who fell two hundred feet because of damaged equipment. Aware that he should not move the corpse but worried that the tide might move it out to sea, he sought the help of people in a nearby cottage. He broke in when no one answered the door only to find the owner following him in. She introduced herself as a doctor and offered to examine the victim. After getting the body out of the way, they headed into town. They reported their finding to DI Bea Hannaford, who would head the police investigation. She went out to Polcare Cove where she saw the body, arranged for its removal and questioned Lynley and the cottage owner. She was surprised that the owner denied knowing the victim because she recognized him as Alexander "Santo" Kerne, the son of Ben and Dellen Kerne, who owned Adventures Unlimited and operated a nearby hotel.
Hannaford proceeded onto routine background checks on both Lynley and the owner whose name was Daidre Trahair. She was a vetinarian who worked in Bristol and used the cottage for vacations. She tended to be vague when she discussed her background and had no phone in the cottage. Hannaford learned that the disheveled man who found the body was Thomas Lynley, an acting superintendent at New Scotland Yard on personal leave. Hannaford told Lynley and Trahair to remain in the area. She was in need of assistance since her supervisor, who was also her husband, was unable to send over detectives from the major case squad. Hannaford contacted Scotland Yard who loaned out DS Barbara Havers, Lynley's partner.
Lynley checked into the Salthorse Inn in Caselvyn as did Havers. She then started research on Trahair while Hannaford met with the family and friends of Santo Kerne. Santo lived with his parents and sister Kerra at the hotel. Kerra was engaged to Alan Cheston, their parents' assistant. Her friend Madlyn Angarrack had just broken up with Santo who preferred multiple partners. Madlyn just learned she was pregnant. She followed Santo one evening when he went to Daidre's cottage to meet Aldara Pappas, an older woman who rented the cottage for assignations with Santo, Max Priestley, the editor of the local paper and possibly with Madlyn's father Lew.
Lew Angarrack owned Liquid Earth, which built surfboards. He employed Jago Reeth, an older man who recently moved into the area. Jago was friendly with Selevan Penrule, who cared for his granddaughter Tammy. Tammy worked at a store that sold surfing equipment. She wore black and hoped to join a convent in France. Jago tried to befriend the younger people of the neighborhood including Lew's son Cadan. Cadan had just started working at the hotel. He painted radiators until he was approached by Dellen. Cadan sensed a Mrs. Robinson moment and continued painting radiators. Eventually his encounters with Dellen became too stressful; he returned to Liquid Earth.
Dellen had a long history of seducing neighborhood men. She and Ben were part of a group that was implicated in the death of Jamie Parsons thirty years ago. She surprised Ben at a party given by Jamie when she appeared with another boy. Ben then took up with another girl. He also had an argument with Jamie about going out with Jamie's sister. The other boys then devised a scheme to taunt Jamie. They wanted Nan, who was going out with Jack, to lure Jamie into a cave. When she refused, they plied Jamie with alcohol and cocaine and took him into the cave where they tied him up and urinated on him. They then released him and left. However, he was too intoxicated to leave the cave and drowned. No one was arrested for his death. However. the Parsons family blamed Ben because of their argument.
Ben himself went back to Dellen. After their marriage she was often found in bed. He was very attentive almost to the point of atonement. When she was up she often dressed in red. She appeared to be a "faded beauty". Ben was alienated from his parents who opposed the marriage.
Lynley learned about the story when he went to Newquay to interview retired police and the friends who still lived in the area.
Lynley was also having dinner with Daidre who was reluctant to get involved. She was aware of their class differerences. Lynley was the 8th Earl of Asherton whose family estate Howenstow was in Cornwall. He and Havers were unable to find out any history for Daidre before she was thirteen. After trying to get Lynley to talk about his wife Helen, she finally spoke about her family. She was adopted at thirteen because the state removed her and her sister and brother from their parents' custody on charges of neglect. They were travellers who lived in a caravan and supported themselves by doing odd jobs. Her siblings returned to their parents after the brother was physically abused in foster care.
The sister recently reached out to Daidre because their mother had terminal cancer. Daidre asked Lynley to go with her when she visited her mother. The visit was stressful. Her father and brother did not recognize her and were hostile to her as an outsider. She was distressed about her mother's condition. She shared with Lynley her feelings of anger and sadness but continued to push him away. Her refusal to call him "Tommy" only seemed to increase his interest.
Eventually the police were able to rule out suspects. They also learned that Jago Reeth was actually Jon Parsons, Jaime's father. He waited thirty years for his revenge. At a meeting of the police and suspects Ben repeated his story about not being present when Jamie died. Jago described Santo's death as a series of suppositions. Because the police had no evidence or confession they were unable to arrest him and he left the area. Ben then told Dellen it was time for her to leave. Selevan took Tammy to a convent in Scotland. Hannaford reconciled with her husband. Daidre returned to Bristol.
Lynley and Havers were left at the Inn where they had dinner and resumed their usual comfortable pattern of communication. Havers asked him when he would return to work. He replied he would have to finish his walk and then see.
Best part of story, including ending:
The concluding dinner with Lynley and Havers was the best part of the book since it did not have the forced quality of the rest of the story. The dialogue among the other characters went on for too long. They were not interesting people.
Best scene in story:
The dinner was my favorite scene since it was not strained or a cliche. There were few other scenes with Lynley and Havers. Instead the story focused on the local families.
Opinion about the main character:
Lynley was less present in this story. It was possible to empathize with his grief. However, his interest in Daidre seemed like a portent of unfortunate relationships to come. He was less communicative, did not carry a phone on his walk and avoided contact. Hopefully in future stories he would deal with his loss while returning to his friends and work.