During a chance encounter on a train, the elderly Miss Pinkerton confides to Miss Marple that she is about to report a murderer who has already struck several times in the peaceful village of Wychwood. When Miss Marple reads that Miss Pinkerton died in a tragic accident before making her report, she decides that it is now up to her to find the killer.
Charming her way into village life, Miss Marple is befriended by Luke Fitzwilliam, a handsome former policeman who is increasingly drawn to the mysterious and beautiful young American Bridget Conway. When the sudden death of belligerent Dr. Humbleby leaves Reverend Wake increasingly busy with funeral services, Luke finds himself becoming Miss Marple's confidante and ally in the search for the truth.
Miss Marple and Luke soon learn the village isn't quite as sleepy as it appears. Bereaved widow Jessie Humbleby loses her grip on reality and her daughter Rose helps young Dr. Thomas in his election campaign against ambitious Major Horton (under the scrutinizing eye of local lawyer James Abbot).
When church organist Honoria Waynflete finds the corpse of her maid Amy Gibbs, nervous Constable Reed steps in, turning to Miss Marple for guidance in the murky waters of his first murder case. As Luke downplays the link between the deaths and the arrival of Bridget, Miss Marple prepares to reveal a secret so shocking the villagers will never forget it.
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
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Warning: Contains significant plot spoilers
The villagers of Wychwood seem unusually clumsy. The vicar has just expired from mishandling insecticide. An elderly herbalist has dropped dead after putting the wrong sort of mushroom in her stew. And everyone remembers the brother of the church organist who stumbled on the river bank and drowned.
But Lavinia Pinkerton suspects foul play and travels to London to inform Scotland Yard. "Murder is easy," she tells a chance acquaintance on the train, Miss Marple, "as long as nobody thinks it is murder."
Unfortunately, while leaving the station Miss Pinkerton has a fatal fall down the escalator. When Marple reads about it, she heads to Wychwood to investigate. No sooner has she met the locals and fallen in with a sympathetic former policeman, Luke Fitzwilliam, than the venerable village doctor succumbs to blood poisoning from an infected cut — another "accident."
Then suicide begins afflicting the town. Amy Gibbs, maid to organist Honoria Waynflete and granddaughter of the mushroom victim, downs a bottle of hair dye. And Lydia Horton, diabetic wife of parliament member Major Hugh Horton, overdoses on insulin. By now, even the easy-going town constable, Terrence Reed, has joined with Marple and Luke to consider if a serial killer is on the loose.
Of course, Wychwood has its share of oddballs and intrigue. The doctor's widow, Jessie Humbleby, has become unhinged in a very peculiar way. And Major Horton has a nasty political rivalry with solicitor James Abbot. Illicit romance is also in the air, possibly between Jesse and the major, and definitely between Amy and Abbot. Indeed, at Amy's death she is discovered to be pregnant.
Then there is Bridget Conway, a beautiful and mysterious American who is making rubbings at churches in the area. Luke develops a crush on her, but her mind is on something besides romance, and she seeks out the gardener at the village hospital for some information — and not about flowers.
Marple unravels this intricately tangled plot at the usual gathering of suspects, where it emerges that after one impulsive act Honoria just got into the habit of homicide. She couldn't stop as she tried to wipe the slate clean of all who knew about her past.
It started with her brother, a brain damaged adolescent who raped her after the major got him drunk. She pushed him into the river. But then she discovered she was pregnant, and the vicar, the doctor, and the herbalist learned of her condition as she consulted them about an abortion. One day, they too would meet with "accidents" — as would Miss Pinkerton for noticing a pattern to the suspicious deaths.
Honoria changed her mind and the baby was born, and then set adrift like the infant Moses. Found by Lydia (another eventual victim), the child was given to Americans and raised as Bridget Conway. Bridget's return and her inquiries about her origins sparked Honoria's efforts to hide her own past — in a regrettably violent way.