Shortly after receiving an anonymous note announcing an imminent, unspecified murder, Superintendent George Rogers of Abbotsburn, England, learns of the death of Andrew Lattimer in a car bombing. Rogers’ investigation leads him and Chief Inspector Lingard to a study of Lattimer’s suspicious relatives and coworkers.
The premise for the novel appears after Rogers has already begun questioning eyewitnesses: “For Rogers, it was a basic tenet that to know what had made a victim tick was to discover who had stopped the ticking.” Ross, a former chief superintendent himself, shows how his detectives pursue their leads, a method which consists primarily of interviewing a string of suspects--Lattimer’s widow, neighbor, employers--to re-create a sense of the personality of the victim. Ross is also able to convey a feeling of the world weariness that in time becomes the occupational hazard for those who must constantly deal with “sudden departures,” the police term for violent death. Much of the potential tedium of an organizational strategy that essentially presents a series of conversations rather than incorporates elements of action is dispelled by Ross’s talent for creating character. Lattimer’s shadowy and alluring neighbor, his overly timid employers, the too-protective siblings, and the unfaithful wife for the most part emerge as believable participants in the unfolding case. The final revealing of the culprit in a novel of character such as this satisfies not so much because the identity comes as a complete surprise but because the author has carefully and subtly shown the underlying causes in the preceding chapters. Ross’s police novel is compelling and believable.