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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 307

Twenty-two year old Cordelia Gray arrives at work to find that her boss, Bernie Pryde, has killed himself. In his note, he says that he learned he had cancer and decided to "take the easy way out" (by slitting his wrist); in addition, he has left her his private investigator...

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Twenty-two year old Cordelia Gray arrives at work to find that her boss, Bernie Pryde, has killed himself. In his note, he says that he learned he had cancer and decided to "take the easy way out" (by slitting his wrist); in addition, he has left her his private investigator business, of which she was recently made a partner. Soon after, Cordelia is visited by a Miss Leaming, who has come to hire Bernie on behalf of her boss, Sir Ronald Callender. Cordelia goes to Cambridge with Miss Leaming to see if Callendar would be willing to hire her instead. He is, and Callender employs Cordelia to learn why his son, Mark, hanged himself about three weeks prior. Cordelia interviews a number of people including Mark's old school friends, his bosses, his school mentor, his mother's nanny, his mother's doctor, and a few more. She has a hunch that Mark did not hang himself but that he was, rather, murdered. Cordelia learns that, because of his blood type, Mark could not possibly have been the biological son of the people believed to be his parents, and she discovers that Mark also learned this information before he died. A massive inheritance from his maternal grandfather was to be his upon his twenty-fifth birthday, and suspicions surrounding his maternity might have jeopardized this inheritance. Cordelia eventually discovers that Mark's own father killed him, and he only hired Cordelia to learn who had tampered with the scene he'd constructed in order to provide a plausible motive for a suicide. Cordelia learns that Mark's mother was really Miss Leaming, who shoots and kills Sir Ronald when she hears him confess to Cordelia that he was responsible for Mark's death, and Cordelia helps her to cover up the murder and make it seem as though Sir Ronald actually took his own life.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 28, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1081

Private detective Cordelia Gray is on her way to work, not knowing that her boss, Bernie Pryde, had died the night before. Upon arriving at the office, Gray discovers his body and a suicide note that outlines his terminal illness. She subsequently learns she has inherited the firm, his gun, and his debts. Given Great Britain’s handgun laws, the inheritance of the gun is a tricky matter.

Elizabeth Leaming, the business manager for Gray’s first client, Sir Ronald Callendar, is waiting at the office when Gray returns from the cremation. Leaming chides her for being late, noting that it is eighteen minutes past 4 p.m., the stated return time posted on the door, and then expresses her wish to speak to Mr. Pryde. Surprised at the news of his death, Leaming then begins to taker her leave, but Gray enthusiastically sells her own skills in hopes of keeping the client. After a phone call consultation with her employer, Leaming hires Gray and asks her to come immediately to meet Sir Ronald and learn about the case.

On the train journey to Cambridge, Leaming quizzes Gray on her training. Gray learns that Leaming and Sir Ronald were referred to Pryde by a former client, whom Pryde always predicted would send them an important referral. Gray reminisces about Pryde and also thinks of her own past as she compares herself to Leaming. Gray’s mother had died when she was an infant and her father was not always able to take proper care of her. Although strongly not religious himself, he entrusted young Cordelia to the nuns; Gray, during her formative years, had lived at a convent school.

Gray is uncomfortable in the luxury and formality of the Callendar residence, but is rejuvenated when given information about the case. She is also given a photograph of Mark Callendar, Sir Ronald’s son, whose death sparked the investigation. Gray sleeps with the photo at night, with her hands “closed protectively” over the envelope. The next morning, Gray assembles her supplies, including a new notebook labeled with the case name, and begins her investigation.

Gray learns that Mark had taken his job as a gardener for Major Markland quite recently, after giving up his place at Cambridge University abruptly, in the middle of the term. In speaking with the major, his wife, and his sister, Gray learns a number of details—and opinions—about Mark, who did not disclose his parentage to his new employer, had no real experience with gardening, and had the bad manners to kill himself in his lodgings on their grounds. Armed with more details about Mark’s time at Cambridge, Gray heads off to the university to meet with his former tutor and to track down Mark’s girlfriend and other friends. Gray also speaks with the local police officer, Sergeant Maskell, who had investigated the incident at Mark’s cottage on the Markland property.

Gray’s initial inquiries convince her that Mark had been murdered and his supposed suicide had been faked. Gray learns more about Mark and the relationship he had with his father, which had been affected by the death of Mark’s mother when he was a baby. This link bonds Gray even more closely to Mark.

Gray is soon pulled into the world of Sophia and Hugo Tilling. Sophia was Mark’s girlfriend and her brother Hugo was one of Mark’s closest friends. They try to include Gray in their world, but she is wary of the overtures, and there is clearly a socioeconomic gap between them. Their friendliness makes Gray suspicious, and as she continues to become strongly bonded with Mark, or at least the version of Mark she is constructing, Gray begins to believe the Tillings had played a part in Mark’s death.

Later, Gray locates a woman named Nanny Pilbeam, who had sent flowers to Mark’s funeral. Gray assumes this woman had been Mark’s nursemaid from childhood and learns that the nanny’s real name is Annie Goddard. She also learns that Goddard had been Mark’s mother’s nurse. Goddard provides many details about Sir Ronald, whom Goddard had known as Ronny. Ronny had been the gardener’s son and had married the boss’s daughter, Evelyn.

Goddard had visited Mark because she had been entrusted with one of his mother’s prayer books, which she Goddard to give to Mark after his twenty-first birthday. A curious inscription provides a major clue to the mystery. Goddard points Gray to Dr. Gladwin, who had treated Mark’s mother, leading Gray to uncover the key to the case.

Gray also learns during the final stages of her investigation that someone else has been a step ahead of her, making similar inquiries into the case. She is attacked by Chris Lunn, Sir Ronald’s laboratory assistant. Although she threatens Lunn with a gun, she does not shoot him. As he flees the scene, he is killed in a car wreck. Gray makes her report to Sir Ronald. In the report she outlines her theory about the case.

Gray’s report reveals that Sir Ronald had Mark killed to avoid the truth coming out about Mark’s real mother and to avoid losing the fortune that he was counting on Mark inheriting from her family upon his twenty-fifth birthday. To make Mark’s death look like an accident, Sir Ronald’s minions strangled Mark and then dressed his body in women’s lingerie and applied makeup to suggest an accidental death or suicide by erotic asphyxiation. Knowing that someone else had been involved in some way, Sir Ronald had hired an investigator to look into who that person might be and to deflect any potential suspicion that he himself had been involved.

After Gray confronts Sir Ronald, his business manager, Leaming, enters the room and shoots him, later explaining to Gray that Mark had been her son and that she had been the one who tampered with the scene, removing the makeup and clothing. Gray chooses to help Leaming cover up the incident. She recalls some of her training from Pryde and arranges the scene to suggest that Sir Ronald had committed suicide.

Although some of the police remain suspicious, Gray’s account of the events eventually is accepted as truth. She talks to several of the detectives about Pryde, who had left the police force after a brief stint and had always regretted his lack of success there.

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