Thirty-fifth in line for the English throne, Lady Georgiana Rannoch is indeed an innocent abroad. Possessing a degree of wit, intelligence and native cunning, Georgiana has learned fast how to survive in a hostile environment outside the cocooned existence of her upbringing. Never one to manipulate situations to her own benefit, Georgiana
soon realizes that perhaps it's not in her best interests to shut herself away at Castle Rannoch with her wily sister-in-law, Fig.
While the world remains in the grip of the
Great Depression, Georgiana’s biggest fear is that she is unable to marry handsome Darcy. Plagued by this “impossible dream,” Georgiana travels with her maid, Queenie, to the village of Tiddleton-under-Lovey. Tucked at the edge of Dartmoor, Tiddleton is one of England’s most charming
and quaint villages, a notion not lost on Georgiana when she answers an advertisement from Lady Hawse-Gorzley of Gorzley Hall for a woman of impeccable background to assist with social duties of a large Christmas house party.
Georgiana’s enthusiastic party preparations pale in comparison to the shock caused by Lady Hawse-Gorzley’s “stupid” neighbor, who has gone and hung himself in their pear tree. Adding to this uneasiness: a few days previously, three convicts escaped from Dartmoor Prison. Supposedly model prisoners and part of a gang working in the local quarry, their escape in particular has placed the guests, Americans Mr. and Mrs. Wexler and Indians Colonel and Mrs. Rathbone, on considerable edge.
Collaborating with Lady Hawse-Gorzley’s daughter, Bunty, the “black sheep” of the family who thinks it’s rather silly that her mother should play at being “Ye Olde English Christmas with Ye Olde aristocratic family,” Georgina quickly becomes invested in discovering whether the neighbor actually
did commit suicide. When one of the villagers surreptitiously falls into Lovey Brook and dies, everyone--including droopily-mustached Inspector Newcombe--concludes that he and the neighbor were probably murdered. Perhaps the deaths are a result of the Lovey Curse: a witch burned at the stake who cursed the town, saying that on Yuletide she'll be back to take her revenge.
Georgiana finds herself swept up in the mystery, along with the whereabouts of the escaped convicts and a wild girl called Sal who lives on the Tor and gives Georgiana some kind of warning, hinting not just that the ground is treacherous underfoot but
that something far more sinister is at work. Georgiana is unable to curtail her naturally inquisitive nature, danger or not, even when neither Darcy (who thankfully arrives in Tiddleton) nor Newsome can quite expect a lady of Georgiana’s breeding to be involved in any “local unpleasantness.”
There's a lot going on: in the haunting ministrations of wild Sal; in Lady Hawser-Gorzley’s frosty guests; in the mind of a village idiot; in the polite wisdom of Albert Spinks, Georgiana’s granddad; and also in her mother's flirtatious friendship with Noel Coward.
As Georgiana prepares for a lavish fancy dress ball, she witnesses a number of disturbing events in the form of ghostly shapes that dart in and out of the village shops, swathed in scarves against the bitter cold.
Blessed with sharp reasoning, Georgiana learns to be suspicious of motives in an environment where a sense of danger soon manifests into a hostile presence. Although she does come to understand that quite a few of the people she meets are suspects, she never acts on impulse, ultimately relying on her uncanny ability
to solve murders while also enjoying everything that Bowen's delightful festive season has to offer.