Scotland Yard commander Adam Dalgliesh meets an old friend, and the two visit the Dupayne Museum. The Dupayne is a private museum that focuses on Great Britain in the years between World War I and II, and its most famous collection is the Murder Room, which contains memorabilia related to some of the most famous murder cases of the period. As he leaves, Dalgliesh notes that he is glad to have visited, but that he has no interest in returning.
The three adult children of museum founder Max Dupayne serve as trustees and hold the future of the museum in their hands. Neville Dupayne, the eldest, is a psychologist, Caroline Dupayne works as the assistant principal at a girls’ school, and Marcus Dupayne is a freshly retired civil servant. Because of low revenues and a soon-to-expire lease, the museum is at a crisis point. Caroline, who lives in a luxurious apartment located in the mansion that houses the museum, and Marcus, who wants to be more involved with the administration of the museum during his retirement, want things to continue as they have. Neville, who, of the three siblings is the least directly involved with the museum, and whose daughter needs money, makes clear his intention to vote for closure. The three meet, and although Caroline and Marcus attempt to influence Neville, the older brother stands firm.
Museum staff members include curator James Calder-Hale, who is dying of cancer. He sees the museum and the work he has done to create and sustain it as his legacy. Custodian Tally Clutton, after years of surviving in unhappy circumstances, is content for the first time in her life with her work and her cottage on the museum grounds. Muriel Godby, an officious receptionist who previously worked for Caroline at the school, comes from a dysfunctional family, has suffered a difficult life, and is loyal to Caroline. All of these museum employees have a vested interest in the continued existence of the facility.
Tally, returning to the museum grounds on a Friday evening, is struck by a car. The motorist stops to check on her, but leaves quickly after making a familiar comment, later recognized by all as the same comment Alfred Arthur Rouse, one of the murderers highlighted in the museum, said to a witness as he fled the scene of his crime. Tally is able to recover enough from the accident to continue down the road, until she finds Neville’s car ablaze, in the museum garage. Neville had burned to death inside his car.
Dalgliesh, now heading the special investigation squad, is asked to take the case, owing to its “sensitive nature.” It turns out that the...
(The entire section is 1067 words.)