On the grounds of stately Crevecoeur Hall, English Civil War reenactors have a real casualty on their hands: Philip, nephew of the lord of the manor, has been wounded by a live musket shot. The plot thickens when the body of Dr. Black, a local history professor, is found aboard a bus, and his place of death is traced to the chapel on the estate.
Coincidentally, Sergeant Hathaway grew up at Crevecoeur, where his father worked. When he arrives to look into Dr. Black's murder, he has an unexpected reunion with old playmates: Paul, now the butler; and the lost love of his youth, Scarlett, the lord's daughter. Hathaway still carries a torch for Scarlett and she for him, though she is engaged.
In the typical upper class way, Titus, the lord's heir, is involved with Briony, one of the servants; and Philip is having an affair with his uncle's much younger wife, Selina.
When Briony's father, Mr. Grahame, is found in a pool of blood with his shotgun to his head, and then secret love letters turn up from Dr. Black to the long-gone Mrs. Grahame, it would seem to implicate Mr. Grahame in a murder-suicide. But Lewis is troubled by several loose ends, among them that the priest of the chapel where Dr. Black was killed has a motive to wish him dead. Plus it is inconceivable to Lewis that Briony's doting father would abandon her by doing himself in.
After Lewis starts talking about lost treasure on the estate, Hathaway is convinced his boss has lost his mind. But could it be Hathaway who has taken leave of his senses and put himself in line to be the next victim?
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
Police work is starting to get to Sergeant Hathaway as he endures a grueling morning of testimony in a trial involving the murder of a ten-year-old girl. Later that day, Inspector Lewis has him track the last movements of a man found murdered on a tourist bus. The victim: Dr. Black, a history professor specializing in the English Civil War.
Hathaway's search leads him to Crevecoeur Hall, a country house he knows well, since he lived on the property as a boy when his father was the estate manager. In questioning the family and staff, he has a reunion with his old playmates, Paul, now the head butler; and Scarlett, Lord Mortmaigne's only daughter, on whom he once had a crush (and vice versa).
Hathaway finds Crevecoeur Hall in an uproar since earlier that day Lord Mortmaigne's nephew, Philip Coleman, was accidently wounded by a live round during a reenactment of a skirmish from the English Civil War. More unwelcome news comes when Hathaway discovers that Dr. Black's murder took place in the chapel on the estate; his body was only later moved to a bus.
Another death soon follows when the current estate manager Ralph Grahame is found with a shotgun wound to the head — an apparent suicide. The case seems to be solved when Hathaway finds love letters written to Dr. Black by Ralph's wife, Linda, who left him nine years earlier. The obvious conclusion is that Ralph murdered Dr. Black out of long-delayed revenge and then took his own life.
Complicating factors are that Ralph's teenage daughter, Briony, has unexplained scars on her wrists; that she is having an affair with Lord Mortmaigne's heir, Titus; that Philip is having an affair with Lord Mortmaigne's young wife, Selina; and that the priest at the chapel where Dr. Black was killed once witnessed Dr. Black run over his best friend in a traffic accident.
Meanwhile, Hathaway is getting romantically involved with his childhood flame, Scarlett, violating police regulations, since she is technically a suspect. Muddling matters for both of them, she is engaged to marry a wealthy Lebanese banker. When Lewis gets wind of the relationship, he immediately puts Hathaway on involuntary leave.
Dispirited, Hathaway attends Scarlett's engagement dinner and makes the shocking discovery that her handwriting on the place cards is a perfect match with handwriting in Linda's love letters. Simultaneously, Lewis has just gotten news that forensic evidence links Paul to the murder weapon used on Dr. Black.
Rushing to the estate for a meeting that Paul intended to have with Hathaway, Lewis finds himself facing Paul's cocked pistol. Before the butler pulls the trigger, the details pour out: Paul bludgeoned Dr. Black when he insisted on excavating part of the estate where he expected to find buried treasure from the English Civil War, but where Paul knew the body of Linda was secretly buried — murdered by Paul nine years earlier when Linda learned that Lord Mortmaigne was molesting Briony. Paul acted out of concern for his master's reputation.
When Scarlett chanced on Dr. Black's body in the chapel, Paul convinced her it was her father's doing and that she must forge love letters from Linda to Dr. Black to throw suspicion on Ralph, whom Paul later killed.
As Paul is about to dispatch Lewis, Hathaway suddenly appears. Paul shoots wildly, mortally wounding Philip, who is also on the scene. Philip's earlier injury at the reenactment also traces to Paul, since he loaded several muskets with live ammunition to create a distraction from the homicide then unfolding in the chapel.
Having wrapped up a case in which the butler really did do it, Lewis is faced with a partner who wants to resign. But he convinces Hathaway to stay on. "Between us we make a not bad detective," says Lewis, adding, "I'm the brains, obviously."