Searching for truffles in a wood, a man and his dog unearth something less savoury - a human hand. The body, as Chief Inspector Wexford is informed later, has lain buried for ten years or so, wrapped in a purple cotton sheet. The post mortem cannot reveal the precise cause of death. The only clue is a crack in one of the dead man's ribs. Although it covers a relatively short period of time, the police computer stores a long list of missing persons. Men, women and children disappear at an alarming rate, something like 500 every day nationwide. So Wexford knows he is going to have a job on his hands to identify the corpse. And then, only about twenty yards away from the woodland burial site, in the cellar of a disused cottage, another body is found. The detection skills of Wexford, Burden and the other investigating officers of the Kingsmarkham Police Force are tested to the utmost to discover whether the murders are connected and to track down whoever is responsible.
Ruth Rendell has won many awards, including the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for 1976's best crime novel with A Demon in My View; a second Edgar in 1984 from the Mystery Writers of America for the best short story, 'The New Girl Friend'; and a Gold Dagger award for Live Flesh in 1986. She was also the winner of the 1990 Sunday Times Literary award, as well as the Crime Writers' Association Cartier Diamond Dagger. In 1996 she was awarded the CBE and in 1997 became a Life Peer.