A macabre discovery in the All Saints' parish graveyard leads Superintendent Alan Markby and his friend, foreign office official Meredith Mitchell, to the dark secret behind the mysterious disappearance of a teenage girl twelve years earlier. The vicar of Bamford, Maurice Appleton, knew he was a dying man. When he discovered traces of a strange, unauthorized ritual in his church, he pleaded with parishioners to say nothing about the black-swathed candle and the flowers anonymously placed on the altar. For twelve years, the incident was forgotten.
Then, one unseasonably chilly summer's day, a corpse is unearthed in the Gresham family plot.
The remains are too shallowly buried to have been legitimately interred and too recent to be those of the last Gresham laid to rest. For Superintendent Markby, newly returned to his old haunts, the challenge of the unsolved crime proves irresistible. Suddenly, his plans for a long-awaited holiday with Meredith are in jeopardy. When the body is identified as that of a local teenager, Kimberley Oates, who was reported missing at the time of the mysterious burial, Markby's mind is made up. To Meredith's secret relief, the holiday is canceled. She finds herself with more time than usual for village chat - and for a dinner party with the local MP that reveals more than either he or his formidable mother would like about his connection to the dead girl.