Chelion Piper has been arrested under suspicion of murder. One of the tenants of his country apartment house, an unsocial and secretive old lady named Miss Minnie, was found by Chelion and two other men in her bungalow, dead in her bed. Suicide or accidental death is quickly ruled out: the woman was drowned in sea water (her clothes and bed were wet), and her face was bludgeoned in. The police discover that Piper inherited the house from a relative of Miss Minnies, and she was there to find evidence of a new will that would give her claim to the property. Motive thus provided, the police begins building the case against Chelion. The accused man writes to Dame Beatrice, and she agrees to pay a visit to Weston Pipers on his behalf (while there, she uses the alias of “Mrs. Farintosh” to allay suspicion; see Watsons Choice). At the house, Dame B. meets Niobe, the quick-to-tears caretaker who was once engaged to Chelion, and the remaining tenants, all of whom are writers–true crime reporters, advice columnists, romance writers and spy novelists among them. The detective soon learns about a wave of sordid anonymous letters addressed to several individuals, as well as a prank that changed the printing of stationery bearing the estates name from “Weston Pipers” to “Nest of Vipers.” The trail of Miss Minnie leads Dame Beatrice and Laura to a run-down junk shop in the village, where they find a duplicitous shop owner, a set of steel fire-irons (which may include a murder weapon), and a cryptic picture with occult origins. When the shopkeeper is found dead in his office, stabbed in the chest, an investigation of the junk shop reveals a private room containing black curtains and carpet, satanic symbols traced upon the floor, and a sacrificial altar. Dame Beatrice must now decide just how many murderers shes looking for: one, two or an entire coven.
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