In new offices and with a slightly changed staff, the Peculiar Crimes Unit takes over the investigation of a defenestrated baby from a locked room when the culprit appears to be a Mr Punch doll. The doll is one of a number of Punch and Judy characters collected by the child's father, a rich businessman who has re-opened a theatre which had a reputation for grand guignol. The child's murder takes place in his apartment on Northumberland Avenue at a post opening night party at which cast, crew and a critic are
present so one of them must be the murderer. Pressure to solve the case is increased because the new
assistant stage manager is the wayward daughter of a leading cabinet minister. On the way to solving the case we are given an introduction to the history of Punch and Judy, reflections on changing London townscape and other diversions. There is a subplot involving the woman who was transcribing Arthur Bryant's memoirs whose death at first appears accidental but turns out to be murder; this sets up the possible theme for the next book as there is a prima facie link with the Hom Office civil servant who has been trying without success to close the unit down. The book unfolds with the usual switching of
interest between the more straightforward investigative work, the scholarly digressions, the intuitive flights of Bryant, especially, until the denouement which occurs at the end but only after more killing.
Not as elegiac as the previous book, the variations hold the interest admirably producing a further chapter in the pair's life story which is well up to standard - and a very high standard at that.