Dominic Corde and his wife Clarice have taken a substitute position as the vicar of the village of Cottisham while Reverend Wynter is off on a holiday until he is found dead in the cellar with a mystery to solve. This deadly find leaves the couple believing his death was not an accident but a possible murder. Clarice originally found the reverend when she was tending to his animals that chased something in the cellar, but it wasn't a rat just the reverend's body with a cut on the face and a blow to the back of the head. He laid there in a pile of coal of which covered his face and body. Clarice found a rip in his clothes and smear marks on the ground from where someone tried to drag the body. From this observation, Clarice convinced her husband that a murderer was out there and they needed to find justice for the crime.
Their first day they met their caretaker for the vicarage, who was Mrs. Wellbeloved, she told the couple about the people in the area and how loved Reverend Wynter was in the village. They met Sir Peter Connaught, who was a person friend of Reverend Wynter, but they had stopped playing chess together after an argument. The following day Clarice was going through the books for the vicar and the personal finances of Reverend Wynter and found that the money was being stolen from the donation box, but being replaced out of the Reverend's personal money. She went to talk to the bookkeeper and found no knowledge about it, so she went to visit John Boscombe and his wife Genevieve to confirm what was happening. John said he knew but did not know who was responsible for it. While working with some of the villagers, Dominic comes across Mrs. Paget who tells him about how many of the people in the village have secrets and tells him about how John and Genevieve are not legitimately married. Clarice researches John in the village history, but could not find a marriage on record for them. Dominic confronts John about his wife and Genevieve of which he needed to fix this in order to pass his estate to his current family. Dominic asks him whether he killed Reverend Wynter to keep this secret, but John told him that the he was helping him find a way to fix his marriage problems.
After meeting with Mr. Riddington, who is an elderly villager, Dominic feels as if someone is following him, but finds it is Mrs. Tower and he learns that she was the one who was taking from the donations. Eventually, she admitted to her big secret of her having an illegitimate child after she had an affair with an established man in the village. Dominic is convinced that Sir Peter is trying to hide this and killed him to keep him from scandalizing his family heritage. His father could have had a child with Mrs. Tower, but Dominic finds out that his father could not have children and that Sir Peter was adopted by his dad Thomas. Dominic suggests that Peter wanted to keep his bloodline a secret by killing the Reverend Wynter, but Sir Peter denies it and offers to help the less fortunate.
Clarice and Dominic are still not sure who the murderer is until Genevieve admits to killing the Reverend Wynter to keep their secret life from everyone in the village knowing. So, Genevieve is taken away and then John tells them he did it so that his wife will not go to jail. Dominic does not believe it is either of them, but suggests that someone is blackmailing them and that person is the one who killed the Reverend Wynter. John admits to the first wife being in town, who is Mrs. Maribelle Paget or the original Mrs. Boscombe that has been making him pay her and the Reverend Wynter was trying to fix it all.
While the conversation is occurring at John's house, Clarice is in the cellar checking for other clues when Mrs. Haget comes along to talk about what happened to the Reverend Wynter and how he died. Clarice suspected that Mrs. Haget knew more about the murder because she was the murderer. It had to be someone small because he was dragged and not carried. So, Clarice leaves Mrs. Haget to tell her husband what she suspects about the killer being Mrs. Haget. Unfortunately, Mrs. Haget gets to her before she can talk to her husband and is now in danger of falling through the ice of the lake. Dominic gets to her but Mrs. Haget is holding tight to her causing her to fall in the frozen lake, but he was able to get Mrs. Haget to let go by hitting her hand with a branch. This left Mrs. Haget to fall into the water down the lake. The following day on Christmas everyone but Mrs. Haget was there for the service because she had died in the lake. Dominic's service talked about the biggest gift given was the gift of Christmas being everlasting hope after we have made mistakes in our lives and had our secrets.
Best part of story, including ending:
I think this story was too descriptive and was slow to follow. The author describes the scenery in too detail. It needed more action or something to keep the interest.
Opinion about the main character:
I like the fact that Dominic was very blunt and to the point when talking with the different people in the book. He had a way of being assertive and still get the answers he wanted to eventually find out who really killed the reverend.