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On the peaceful and secluded Cornish estate of Lord and Lady Bottrell, the body of amateur flautist Tony Mills has been found, shot by his own gun. It appears to be suicide - but a closer inspection reveals some sinister inconsistencies, and Chief Superintendent Wycliffe is called in. As Wycliffe begins to unravel the last days of the dead man, another mystery is revealed: the disappearance of Lizzie Biddick, a pretty young girl who worked as a maid for the Bottrell family. Gradually, bitter feuds and illicit relationships are uncovered - and then another body shatters the pastoral peace of the Cornish estate for ever.