While on leave at his family seat in Cornwall, Lynley becomes involved in investigating the death of a local stable-owner Stephen Fenner, who apparently hanged himself. Fenner had been in financial trouble and had recently been duped into purchasing a lame horse by rival stable-owner, Lawrence Chilcott. However, the officer-in-charge, DS Tremayne, rules out suicide when it is discovered that Fenner was drugged with a horse painkiller before being hanged.
In the meantime, Lynley begins to suspect that Fenners stable-girl, Moira, and her boyfriend, Lachlan, were involved in smuggling contraband through the Cornish coastline, and were using pathways through Fenners estate as well as through Howenstowe, the Asherton estate. He believes that Fenners murder may be to do with his getting in the way of the smuggling racket.
Lynley and his sister try to persuade Lady Asherton to seek help in running the estate, but Lady Asherton is not prepared to listen. Her friend, Lady Keech, who lives on an estate close by, supports Lady Ashertons decision to refuse help, much to Lynley and his sisters consternation.
When Havers comes over to stay at Howenstow as a result of Lady Ashertons invitation, Lynley asks her to help him as he works with DS Tremayne on the case. However, time is running out, and they are forced to watch more lives being taken in connection with the case.
- Armour-Piercing Question: In a heart-breaking moment, DS Tremayne's widow asks Lynley how she should tell her children that their father is dead. Lynley has no answer.Mrs. Tremayne: Inspector Lynley, how do I tell my children that the daddy they had breakfast with yesterday morning is gone forever?Lynley: [shattered] I dont know.Mrs. Tremayne: Neither do I.
- Beautiful Dreamer: The cinematographer gives viewers an absolutely gorgeous shot of Barbara asleep in bed, with the sunlight touching her hair in a way that makes it look like living fire. Then Lynley comes knocking on her door...
- Busman's Holiday: Well, to be fair, we cant have an episode without Lynley and Havers having a case to investigate, even when they are on leave, so
- Can't Spit It Out: Much to his mothers frustration, Lynley won't say a word about the state of his relationship with Helen, and how he is coping with the loss of their baby. He does eventually confide in her.
- Character Development: Contrast Barbara here with the Barbara of "A Suitable Vengeance". The first time she stayed at Howenstowe, she was absolutely overwhelmed and uneasy unless she was specifically doing detective work. This go-round, she's drinking coffee in his kitchen, grousing about being woken early, and getting on famously with Lynley's sister, Judith.
- The Confidant: Other than Havers, the only person Lynley is willing to confide in is his mother. That shows just how highly he values Havers.
- Friendly Address Privileges: Not Lady Keech, thank you. "Sara" will do just fine. In hindsight, she wasn't just being friendly, but also truthful.
- Must Have Caffeine: Lynley gets Barbara up at an ungodly hour of the morning, then drags her out on an investigation without letting her drink her coffee. Let's just say he more than deserves whatever snark Barbara decides to fling his way.
- Not a Morning Person: Lynley soon discovers that Havers mind isnt its usual sharp self in the early hours of the morning, especially if shes been forced to go without coffee.
- Out-of-Character Alert: This is how Lynley figures out that the villain is an imposter. As an Old Etonian himself, he knows that no one whos really been married to an Eton alumnus for 10 years would say that her husband was at college if he was not a scholar.
- Remember the New Guy?: This is the first time we see Lynleys sister, Judith. Both Lynley and Lady Asherton seem to get along famously well with her. But for some inexplicable reason she was never mentioned by any of the Lynleys before, during any of the family celebrations or crises.
- Too Dumb to Live: Why, Tremayne? Why didnt you listen to Lynleys advice?