The Lawrences were newcomers to the town. Nobody knew much about them. Old Mr Lawrence was seventy and had had a stroke which deprived him of his powers of speech, and he was being looked after by his daughter-in-law. This much Lucy Summers was aware of when she went round to the house for her first appointment as his physiotherapist. What she was not prepared for was the shock of seeing the old man sitting in his wheelchair in the garden desperately trying to steal the crusts off the bird-table with his good hand.
Is old Mr Lawrence simply senile? Or is he being systematically starved to death by his neat and civil daughter-in-law? You don’t get a straight answer to a question like that, so Lucy enlists the aid of Geoff Harris, one of the local GPs. He has a word with the district nurse, and the local Social Services are deployed under the wilfully independent generalship of Mrs Chandler, who finds young Mrs Lawrence such a nice client.
And then there’s a regrettable holiday accident and the questions the town finds to ask about the Lawrence family are only just beginning . . .
Josephine Bell is a past-master at the art of conveying something evil nurturing itself behind, and indeed on, the bureaucratic routine of her small town life, as Health Service talks to Social Service and local vicar’s wife speculates to local estate agent’s wife and local newspaper man snuffs the air. The result is a deadly tale in this popular author’s most sharply observant vein.
“Miss Bell’s cool, clinical style is a delight.” Sunday Times