Someone has been burying people in the wrong graves and Victoria Trumbull finds a missing coffin, but there’s no body in it.
As winter sets in on Martha’s Vineyard, 92-year-old Victoria Trumbull discovers an empty coffin in the West Tisbury cemetry. Before she can learn what happened to the missing body, a series of grotesque murders occurs. The victims, all retired foreign service officers, share a connection with a bizarre smuggling scheme and an exotic bird.
There’s more than one reason the new West Tisbury police chief officially made ninety-two-year-old Victoria Trumbull her deputy. For one thing, Victoria knows just about everything about everyone in town, and a lot about the rest of the Martha’s Vineyard year-round population as well—not to mention their ancestors. Victoria may be afflicted with the usual aches and pains that descend on nonagenarians (she has a cut-off shoe to accommodate her sore toe and a stout stick to help her on her walks through fields and woods). But she is as sharp and as sharp-eyed as the proverbial tack. So when Victoria is the only one who spots something amiss among the gravestones of the West Tisbury cemetery, it’s no surprise that the chief listens.
Something is indeed amiss. First comes a request by presumed relatives in the Midwest to disinter a coffin for reburying elsewhere. Then things go wrong from there. The driver of the hearse coming to collect the coffin disappears during the island ferry trip in a rainstorm. Other deaths—some of them irrefutably murder, the other suspicious—follow. And when as a last measure the coffin is found, dug up and opened, it does not contain the expected body. Then the coffin itself disappears.
Meanwhile, the available bedroom for rent in Victoria’s house has been taken over by a female relative of one of the neighbors and her raucous toucan. Victoria is gracious to her unwanted boarders, but they do interfere with the column she writes for the local newspaper and with her efforts to discover whether then strange antics of the coffin are related to the murders.