Superintendent Richard Jury of New Scotland Yard is visiting a friend in Stratford-on-Avon and hoping for an encounter with the intriguing Lady Kennington whom he met in the last book in the series, The Anodyne Necklace. His friend Melrose Plant is in town, too, along with Aunt Agatha, seeing Shakespeare plays and waiting - in Agatha's case - for some visiting cousins from America.
It is summer and the town seems full of visiting Americans, including a group traveling with Honeycutt Tours. This particular group, however, does not stay intact for very long. After having a drink at a pub called "The Dirty Duck" one night, one of the tourists, Gwendolyn Bracegirdle from Sarasota, Florida, is killed in a public restroom behind a church. Her throat is slashed ear to ear and another slash rents the body from sternum to pelvis. There are no clues and Miss Bracegirdle was a quiet sort who did not seem to have any enemies.
The local constabulary take advantage of the fact that they have a Scotland Yard Superintendent in town and ask for his help in investigating. Jury reluctantly agrees - without informing his superiors in London.
Soon, though, all of the police have as much as they can handle because a second member of the tour, a seventeen-year-old beauty from Georgia named Honey Belle, is killed in the same manner. There doesn't seem to be anything to connect the two victims other than the fact that they were both with the same tour group.
Meanwhile, another member of the group, a young boy, has gone missing. He is Honey Belle's stepbrother, James. He has been known to disappear and reappear before so no one is concerned at first, but days go by and he doesn't turn up. It appears the police may have a kidnapping on their hands in addition to two murders.
But that is not to be the end of it all. Honey Belle's mother, James' stepmother, makes a trip to London and there she, too, is killed in the same way as the other two women. As the body total climbs, Jury gets assistance from D.S. Wiggins and his friend Melrose as they race to find a murderer, a missing boy, and attempt to protect the other members of the tour group who may be in danger.
Finally, a man on the tour, a Christopher Marlowe fanatic, is also killed - once again by being slashed. It seems the killer may be branching out from targeting only women.
After the last killing, Jury begins to put it all together. He develops a theory that perhaps only one of the victims was a true target and the others were only window dressing. Red herrings, as it were. The trick is to figure out which one was the target. That may lead him to the motive and to the murderer.
The Dirty Duck is another wonderful stroll through the villages of England and, in this case, along the streets of London as well. It is written with Grimes' typical light touch and is full of interesting characters, which, of course, include a couple of charming and precocious kids and a couple of cats who play their roles. It is a lovely lazy summer read that whets the appetite for more in this series. I suspect I'll be cracking open the next Richard Jury novel on my Kindle very soon.