The twenty-first book to feature the classic crime-solving detective, Chief Inspector Wexford. Searching for truffles in a wood, a man and his dog unearth something slightly less savoury - a human hand.
The corpse, as Chief Inspector Wexford is informed later, has lain buried for ten years or so, wrapped in a purple cotton sheet.
The post mortem can not reveal the precise cause of death.
The only clue to solving this mysterious murder is a crack in one of the dead man's ribs. Wexford knows it will be a difficult job to identify the dead body.
Although it covers a relatively short period of time, the police computer stores a long list of missing persons.
People disappear at an alarming rate - hundreds each day. And then, only about twenty yards away from the woodland burial site, in the cellar of a disused cottage, another body is found. The detection skills of Wexford, Burden and the other investigating officers of the Kingsmarkham Police Force are tested to the utmost to discover whether the murders are connected and to track down whoever is responsible.