Returning to London on New Year’s Eve after a Christmas visit to his brother, Gerald, Duke of Denver, Lord Peter Wimsey drives his Daimler into a ditch. He and his valet, Bunter, take refuge in the nearby East Anglian village of Fenchurch St. Paul, where they are welcomed by the rector, Theodore Venables, and his wife, Agnes.
Agnes and Theodore tell Lord Peter that he has arrived at a historic moment, for the rector plans to ring in the new year with 15,840 peals of Kent Treble Bob Major, thus equaling the performance of the College Youths in 1868. When William Thoday succumbs to influenza, Venables thinks that he must abandon this ambitious scheme, but Lord Peter volunteers to substitute for the ailing ringer and performs admirably.
Once Lord Peter’s car is repaired, he and Bunter leave the village with no plans ever to return—until Venables sends them a note about a curious development. Lady Thorpe had died on January 1 and was buried in the churchyard. Her husband had died the following spring, and when the grave was opened so that Sir Henry could be placed beside his wife, another corpse was found there. Even more mysterious, the face had been smashed and the hands cut off to prevent identification.
As Lord Peter and Superintendent Blundell try to determine the identity of the corpse, the method of death (there are no signs that the body was subjected to violence before its demise), and the motive for the murder and the mutilation, they discover that another mystery is connected with this one. In 1914, at the wedding of Sir Henry Thorpe, a wealthy relative was robbed...
(The entire section is 659 words.)