Investigative journalist Rhoda Gradwyn - who's exposed her fair share of secrets - schedules plastic surgery to remove a disfiguring facial scar. Her surgeon, George Chandler-Powell runs a private clinic in his ritzy country estate at Cheverell Manor, where he employs a motley assortment of characters including an assistant surgeon, a manager/housekeeper, a married pair of young chefs, an accountant, a girl from the village, a sexy nurse, an irascible gardener, and so on. The scarred journalist has her share of detractors at the clinic, who fear she'll find some secrets to expose - but the surgeon is unmoved by these concerns.
When Rhoda shows up a Cheverell Manor for her preliminary visit and then for her surgery, she's followed by her friend Robin Boyton - an attractive young man who can't find a way to make a living. It so happens that Robin's cousins (the assistant surgeon and his sister) work at Cheverell Manor. Robin rents a cabin on the estate and plans to exhort his cousins to give him some of the fortune they've recently inherited from a mutual grandfather who cut off Robin's side of the family.
Rhoda has successful surgery after which she's brutally murdered in her room at the clinic. Enter Adam Dalgliesh and his team of detectives to investigate the crime. This sets up the remainder of the story which involves a long, old-fashioned inquiry. Seriously....a modern mystery wouldn't start an investigation by assembling all the suspects in the library for a mass questoning. The Cheverell Manor residents would love to pin the crime on a 'stranger' but a second death on the estate makes this very unlikely.
Some additional goings on add variety to the story: Dalgliesh gets engaged, a tangential female character gets assaulted and raped; a teacher fears he may be (wrongly) accused of being inappropriate with a child; and so on.
For most of the book the detectives collect evidence, question persons of interest, make discoveries, narrow down the list of suspects, and so on. In the end, the perpetrator essentially exposes themself - and even then we're not quite sure the case has been successfully closed. In my opinion, the book should end right after this climax. However it meanders on for several more chapters to bestow 'happy endings' on various characters.
This isn't one of PD James best books. Fans of the author might enjoy the book for old times sake but it's not a great mystery.