The headmaster of the Sir George Etherege school for boys becomes understandably concerned when one of his senior staff, a geography teacher named Mr. Pythias, does not appear at school following a weekend break. In the days leading up to Christmas vacation, no one at the school or at his boarding house hears from the missing man. The unexplained absence is doubly frustrating as Pythias had collected several hundred pounds from dozens of students and faculty to fund a school trip to Greece, and the money never made it to the bank on that fateful Friday. The headmaster refuses to believe that a staff member could have absconded with the money, but then where has Pythias disappeared to?
A couple mysterious break-ins happen on campus and the groundskeeper spots two figures causing mischief, but they escape apprehension. They seemed to be digging near a large plot in the quad that was used as a rubbish hole when building construction was taking place. Plans of transforming the area into a large lily pond come to an abrupt halt when a man’s body is found buried among the debris.
When two boys who may have witnessed one of the break-ins go missing, the inspector requests Dame Beatrice to take up the case. Accompanied by Laura Gavin, the psychiatrist to the Home Office questions co-workers, students, landlord, housemates, bank officials, and even a Southampton art gallery owner until she is able to provide the beleaguered headmaster with answers to the puzzle.
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“The world of Gladys Mitchell is an extraordinary place” Nicholas Fuller
“…among the most felicitous of prose writers” P.D. James