Andrea De Ritter, a local businesswoman, has a copy of former MI5 chief Grace Orde's memoir signed by the author. But she has it inscribed for Leon, not herself, and tucks a note inside the book: "Who killed Mary? See Chapter 8." She dispatches her young student-lover Elmo Woodeson to deliver the package. The following day, Andrea is found dead, bludgeoned to death in her home.
Lewis and Hathaway quickly identify the case as a botched blackmailing. But how "Mary" and the contents of chapter eight connect to De Ritter's intended blackmail victim, Leon Suskin, is a mystery. Certainly his family life is unstable, as his gifted daughter Zoe perceives, suspicious that her mother is having an affair — but that's no crime. More promising is De Ritter's sexual history, including dalliances with the free-running iconoclast Elmo, the pub owner Liam...and perhaps, her business partner Leon.
A quick study of chapter eight reveals that the answer may lie a long way from Oxford, in the 1980s IRA murder of a Belfast university student. "The Irish Troubles" signals involvement of the British Secret Service, forcing Lewis to match wits with the former MI5 chief Orde. But the author of Lies and Secrets lies artfully, guards her secrets masterfully, and coolly unleashes her thuggish bodyguard. Before long, a gifted Oxford student turns up dead. Digging ever deeper into the past, Lewis and Hathaway must work to unravel decades of the best-protected lies and secrets before the murderer can strike again in the all-too vivid present.
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
Andrea De Ritter, founder of an organization for gifted children, is found bludgeoned to death, done in by a bust of Albert Einstein. As Lewis and Hathaway investigate they discover that Albert would have approved, since Andrea was running a very shady enterprise in the name of promoting genius. Interestingly, Hathaway himself was once a gifted child.
It seems that Andrea's organization was failing financially, and the prestigious scholarship she awarded the night of her murder went to 15-year-old Oxford student Zoe Suskin, the daughter of Andrea's chief backer, publisher Leon Suskin. Zoe is deserving, but her award has the look of corruption.
Plus, Andrea was trying to blackmail Leon, who may have been an ex-lover. Tucked inside a recently published memoir by former MI5 chief Grace Orde, which Andrea sent to Leon, is this note: "Who killed Mary? Chapter 8, darling." Chapter 8 is about the IRA execution of a suspected turncoat in Belfast 25 years earlier. Her name: Mary Keane. Presumably, Leon knows something about Mary.
Finally, Andrea was in the midst of an affair with a first year student at Oxford, Elmo Woodeson, who delivered the book with the note to Leon. Coincidentally, Elmo and Zoe are friends, having met as students of American visiting professor Don Voss, who is their tutor in Irish revolutionary history. Don is unusually indulgent toward Zoe, but dismissive of Elmo.
Then Elmo, an avid practitioner of free running, turns up dead from a too ambitious leap, with a large dose of LSD in his bloodstream. Soon after, Don is admitted to the hospital with chronic arsenic poisoning, and Leon is later murdered with a cheese knife.
It takes high-level pressure on MI5 and astute arm-twisting by Lewis to get Grace to reveal the secret about Mary Keane: she was never killed. Her IRA boyfriend and supposed executioner was an informant for MI5. Spirited out of Northern Ireland and given new identities, the two are none other than Don, and Leon's wife and Zoe's mother, Judith.
Don and Mary (Judith) were reunited when Don returned from his new life in the US to teach at Oxford. Leon knew nothing of his wife's real identity, until Elmo overheard Don and Mary talking, alerted Andrea, and she saw an opportunity to blackmail Leon.
Tipped off about his blown cover by a sly remark in one of Elmo's essays, Don retaliated by murdering Andrea, doping Elmo with enough LSD to cause him to jump to his death, and knifing Leon while taking temporary leave from his hospital bed from the poisoning incident. That was the work of Mary's aunt Eileen, who, believing Mary to be dead and having figured out Don's true identity, got a job at an Oxford cafeteria so she could spike his coffee.
Cornered by Hathaway and Lewis while he is holding a gun on Mary, determined to take her life and then his in a final consummation of their love, Don is talked into surrendering. Then an incredulous Eileen is reunited with Mary, and a gifted child and former child enjoy a chess match — namely, Zoe and Hathaway.