It's spring 1942. Caroline Graham is six months pregnant, overweight, irritable, and most decidedly bored with her "delicate" condition. She hates being tied down and resents her husband Cyril and her cousin Edward for being off on assignment and having fun while she's confined to the village. She grows more restless each day, and her good friend and confidant Leslie Atwater does his best to boost her spirits but fails miserably. What Caroline needs is a problem to solve, "something juicy" to challenge her mind. And, of course, that's exactly what she gets.
Be careful what you wish for.
First there's a rash of poison pen letters circulating in the village. Librarian Elspeth Hunter receives a letter, and is the first to die, presumably by her own hand. Other deaths follow. Are the sudden deaths connected to the letters? As weeks pass and the bodies mount, Caroline and Leslie discover a pattern that suggests something more sinister is at work. With Leslie's help, Caroline must use all her cunning and put her life at risk to uncover a cold-blooded murderer -- a remorseless killer who continues to raise the stakes in a deadly game of malice.
Nothing much happens in an English village. Even in wartime. Elspeth Hunter sat at her desk and looked out the library window at a beautiful spring day. One of the finest in a long while. And she'd be damned if she missed the end of it.
Tuesdays were always a slow affair, and this one proved no exception. With only a handful of books to reshelf and a minimal amount of general housekeeping to complete at her desk, Elspeth was bored stiff.
Somehow, and with great effort, she made it till noon when she slipped out to the teashop across the way for a sweet and a pot of tea. She was the only employee in the small village library and could come and go as she pleased, as long as she locked up the place securely. Still, there was that little voice in her head telling her to put in a full day's work, even though anyone could see there was very little to do until the crowds arrived in the early evening hours.
Elspeth couldn't wait till evening and imagined herself at home, safely tucked up in her comfy bed, the blackouts drawn, and the light from the small bedside lamp illuminating the pages of the latest Christie mystery. Being a librarian had its advantages indeed.
During the daytime, with most villagers at work and the children in school, she often closed the library in the afternoon and opened up again later. Elspeth glanced at her watch. Half three. She fished in her desk drawer for her keys, and after putting on her warm coat, hat, and woolen scarf, she locked up and headed for home.
The air was crisp for April, but the sun was out and everything looked leafy and green. Elspeth spotted Vicar Crandall and his lovely wife, Moira, walking on the opposite side of the street. The vicar tipped his hat and Elspeth waved. She's far too young for such an old goat. Ought to be ashamed of himself. Even if he is a holy man.
Elspeth reflected on how difficult it was these days to tell who was who in town, especially with the constant influx of evacuees from the cities; it seemed the population changed daily with so many unfamiliar faces roaming about. Amazing she ran into anyone she knew by their first names. Let alone their surnames.
It wasn't much of a distance to her home, but given her advanced age -- almost into her seventies, Elspeth found her breaths coming in short little gasps by the time she opened the gate, collected the afternoon post, and made it up the five small steps to the front door.
Once inside, and taking a moment until her breathing reverted to normal, she hung up her coat and scarf, dropped her handbag and keys on the hall table, and went straight back to the kitchen where she put on the kettle and set it to boil. A nice cuppa and I'll be right as rain. Then she busied herself with the tea things and set out a packet of biscuits on the table.
She waited for the kettle to boil and leafed through the post. Nothing much. A bulletin from the Ministry of Food extolling the virtues of the National Loaf -- a brown bread that most Britishers considered inedible, nasty tasting, and above and beyond what was required for the war effort. High in vitamin E, they say, and considered an aphrodisiac by some. A lot of good that does me at my age! Elspeth suppressed a laugh and looked over the next piece of mail: a letter addressed to her, yet with no return address from the sender. Odd.
A loud whistling sound, and Elspeth turned to switch off the kettle. She slit open the envelope with a kitchen knife and focused on the two simple sentences typed on plain white paper. But nothing was simple about the message. Not for Elspeth Hunter. She keeled over in a dead faint.