When a body is discovered floating in a Thames river lock one damp and dreary morning, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James are summoned from Scotland Yard to the Chiltern Hills outside of London. A drowning in the countryside doesn't ordinarily merit Scotland Yard's attention, but the dead man is Connor Swann, son-in-law of Sir Gerald Asherton, a renowned operatic conductor, and Dame Caroline Stowe, a celebrated and beloved soprano. And prints on the corpse's neck suggest that Connor Swann didn't just fall in the river after too many pints; in fact, he may have been strangled.
Kincaid and Gemma soon discover that this is not the first tragedy to strike the Ashertons – twenty years earlier their twelve-year-old son, Matthew, a musical prodigy, drowned in a swollen stream on a cold November afternoon while walking from school with his sister, Julia. The memory of the talented and charming Matthew lingers, haunting the Ashertons' elegant estate. His sister Julia's life has been shaped by the incident. Now, estranged from her husband, she remains the black sheep of the family, a painter rather than a musician.
At first it seems that Julia had a good reason to leave Connor Swann – he was a bit too fond of the ladies and the horses for his own good. But Kincaid and Gemma suspect that Connor may not have been such a scoundrel after all, and that none of the family's relationships are as simple as they appear on the surface. As the threads of the case become more tangled, Kincaid and Gemma explore the quiet beech woods above the Thames as well as the glamorous world of London opera in search of answers. And when Kincaid finds himself dangerously drawn to one of the suspects, he and Gemma must sort out their complicated feelings for each other.