The Hireling's Tale Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Hireling's Tale

Detective Inspector Frank Shapiro, and his two chief investigators, Liz Graham and Cal Donovan, investigate the murders of a prostitute, a homeless man, and a sheep in and near the small town of Castlemere, England. DETAILED REVIEW In The Hireling's Tale [ISNB 0-373-2677-5] Philip Kendall, Sales Director for Bespoke Engineering, has organized an international conference for his customers near Mere Basin, in the small town of Castlemere. It's “…his biggest budget commitment, and therefore his biggest gamble, of the year. “ Although he was concerned about its success, everything seems to have turned out well, at least for him. He had even been able to have dinner with an old friend, Grace Atwood, whom he hadn't seen for years. They went to a restaurant about 45 minutes away from the conference center, so they could “catch up” without interruptions.
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Things have not gone well for the prostitute who was found murdered in a boat in Mere Basin. It appears that she fell from a high distance [either the roof of the conference center or a high floor of the hotel[, and was beaten severely before that. The Forensic Medical Examiner estimates that she died about 9 pm, just as the conference was breaking up. She has so much cocaine in her that she could not possibly have walked to the edge of the roof of the conference center from which she fell. She was pushed or thrown.

Detective Superintendent Frank Shapiro, a few years from retirement, seems to be very low key but is, actually, a very competent supervisor who gets good work out of people other supervisors have given up on. One of these is Detective Sergeant Cal Donovon; others have found him to be so surly that they cannot work with him, but Shapiro thinks he is an innovative thinker. Cal lives on a narrowboat. “He was widely believed to have canal water running through his veins.” Shapiro says that “…Donovan'll be pleased…” to have a case with a corpse on a canal boat. Although Donovan was off the day the corpse was discovered, he came to work anyway.

Detective Inspector Liz Graham is Frank's other assistant. She is “…a good looking woman…tall and athletic, with strong features and a clear intelligence in her hazel green eyes.” She is competent, hardworking, and intuitive, and has an excellent relationship with her boss.

All of the rooms in the hotel have been searched without success. Then, Detective Constable Dick Constable notices what others have missed: “…one of the roses on the wallpaper behind the headboard was a deeper, richer red than the others.” When he called the Scenes of Crime Officer, Sergeant Tripp, the Sergeant found traces of blood all over the bedroom. In some places it looked as if someone had tried to wipe the blood away. The most surprising thing, however, was the identity of the person who had been registered to sleep in that bedroom.

Mrs. Grace Atwood.

There are other surprises: A sheep is shot. A homeless man is shot. A prostitute tells Cal Donovan that she is worried about another prostitute. Maddie Cotterick has disappeared. Are these things related to the first murder?

Indeed they are.

The bullets taken from the sheep and the homeless man are not ordinary bullets. They are used by assassins in special weapons.

As it turns out, there were two prostitutes in the room the night Linda was murdered, Linda and Maddie. The murderer, one of the men at the convention, “got his kicks” by beating up women. First, he hit Maddie, hard. She pretended that she was dead. Then, he beat Linda, getting blood all over the place, and raped her. He carried her out of the room and threw her into the canal. When he came back for Maddie, she was gone. She went home, grabbed a few clothes, and went to stay with an old friend – someone not known to the Castlemere community.

While Maddie does not know the man's name, she can identify him. The man knows this, and has hired an assassin. The assassin came to town and practiced aligning his weapon on the sheep and the homeless man. He, then, went in search of Maddie.

Also, it appears that Philip Kendall is in danger. As he was coming home after walking his dog, a shot rang out, whizzed past him, and hit one of the bricks on the wall
of his house. Kendall calls Shapiro, who comes over right away with his team. They search the area but find nobody. As Shapiro is escorting Kendall back into the house, there's another shot. It misses Kendall, but hits Shapiro. Shapiro is not dead, but is shot in the back. Whether he will survive, or ever walk again, is not certain.

Liz arranges to have Kendall, his wife and children, placed in a safe house. Kendall claims that he doesn't know who is trying to kill him, or which of the conference attendees could have beaten and killed Linda.

Some time later, Liz gets a call from Maddie, who says she can identify the murderer. She will tell them the whole story, but not on the phone; only when someone comes to bring her to the police station safely. She's afraid that, after she tells the police what they want to know, they will leave her “out in the cold.”

Liz goes to the safe house where Kendall is staying with his family. She tells him that he is not in danger, that Maddie can identify the murderer, and that Cal Donovan will bring her to the police station.

It, finally, occurs to Liz that Kendall was not ever the target. The assassin was trying to get Shapiro out in the open, because he felt that Kendall was the only one with enough “smarts” to figure the whole thing out.

The story is this. One of the conference attendees wanted Kendall to arrange a prostitute for him. Kendall called Maddie; he was one of her regulars. Linda was visiting Maddie at the time and said that she wanted to come too. Kendall arranged for them to use a room that was, technically, occupied but would be vacant at the time – Grace Atwood's room. Then, Kendall took Grace to a restaurant about 45 minutes away. Kendall had no idea that the situation would get out of control. However, the murderer, Prince Ibn al Siddiq [the second cousin of the King], is not upset. He's used to getting his way. He arranges for the, very competent, assassin, Mr. Dodgson, to clean up the mess.   

When Liz tells Kendall that he is no longer in danger – that the assassin is really after Maddie, and that Donovan is bringing her in, Liz has no idea, of Kendall's involvement. Kendall tells Prince Siddiq, who tells Mr. Dodgson, to go after Maddie. Everyone assumes that Prince Siddiq has left the U.S.

Mr. Dodgson kills Maddie and wounds Donovan. Kendall, who realizes he is in a very tough spot, tells Liz where Prince Siddiq is. He has not left the United States at all. He is at a horse farm, trying to purchase the next Kentucky Derby winner for himself. Kendall and Prince Siddiq are arrested.

Sadly, international cooperation being what it is, the British government agrees to let Prince Siddiq go back to his country for punishment, where, according to Liz and Donovan, he will “get a slap on the wrist”. They feel that the murders, and the assault on Frank Shapiro, will lnot be punished; they are very upset.

Prince Siddiq's plane takes off, but he doesn't get very far. The plane explodes in mid-air.

Frank Shapiro is wiggling his toes.
Best part of story, including ending: I liked the story because it was well written and fast moving, and because I cared about the characters.

Best scene in story: In my favorite scene, Donovan investigates Maddie's house. Most of it looks like the middle class house of any young woman. However, one bedroom is clearly the room of a prostitute.

Opinion about the main character: I like Frank Shapiro because he is an honest policeman, fair to his team, and courageous in the face of possible paralysis.

The review of this Book prepared by Maria Perper a Level 4 Yellow-Headed Blackbird scholar

Chapter Analysis of The Hireling's Tale

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book descript. of violence and chases 10%Planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 30%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 30%How society works & physical descript. (people, objects, places) 30% Tone of story    -   suspenseful (sophisticated fear) How difficult to spot villain?    -   Moderately Challenging Time/era of story:    -   2000+ (Present) What % of story relates directly to the mystery, not the subplot?    -   80% Murder of certain profession?    -   prostitutes/stripper/porn Kind of investigator    -   police procedural, British Kid or adult book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Crime Thriller    -   Yes Murder Mystery (killer unknown)    -   Yes

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   police/lawman Age:    -   40's-50's Ethnicity/Race    -   British


Europe    -   Yes European country:    -   England/UK Small town?    -   Yes Small town people:    -   nice, like Andy/Opie/Aunt Bee

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   moderately detailed references to deaths Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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Jo Bannister Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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