Twenty thousand spectators at a Guy Fawkes' Day bonfire in London are paralyzed with horror when piercing screams are heard from inside the massive fire. It turns out that recently retired Police Superintendent David Peters was being publicly and terribly murdered inside the white hot pyre. Detective Inspector Christy Kennedy leads the ensuing investigation.
He does not lack for suspects. The review of Peters' cases soon reveals that he simply framed many criminals and extorted money from them. He also used his police status to extort enormous "discounts" from merchants and had falsely incriminated some who had refused. He was a consistently unfaithful husband and a failure as a father. His family despised him. Peters also destroyed a colleague's marriage to make the man's wife his long-term and unhappy mistress. Peters was a man who had well-deserved enemies among his colleagues, criminals, family and civilians. Truly a man for all seasons.
Kennedy quietly investigates in an urgent but still low key way. His first (and longest) step is gathering all the information that he can, data that he is constantly reviewing and categorizing as he goes. Kennedy takes great pleasure in police work not only because he is doing justice but because he is naturally curious and derives immense satisfaction from finding things out and putting facts together. This is part of a personality that addresses life with a sense of simple wonder, sort of a mature version of how a child confronts the world, with a joyful curiosity and happiness at discovering things.
The method of murder is too bizarre to be believable, and I found the ending both contrived and a bit overwrought. The story of the investigation itself, however, is a pleasure to read. Kennedy is psychologically insightful and wise. He does contemplate life but in a very concrete way rather than with existential angst. His thinking about aging, for example, takes the form of wondering whether Paul Newman realized when he was sliding down from his peak or unrealistically expected to surge upward again. And Kennedy simply basks in the joy of his love for his girl friend. In the end, the charm and pleasure of the writing more than make up for the murder method and the ending.