Claiming he needs to clear his conscience, a dying man walks into Scotland Yard and confesses that he killed his cousin years ago during the war. When Inspector Ian Rutledge presses for details, the man dodges the questions, revealing only that he hails from the north of London in Essex. With little information and no body to open an official inquiry, Rutledge begins to look into the case on his own. But less than two weeks later, the would-be killer's body is found floating in the Thames, a bullet hole in the back of his head. Searching for answers, Rutledge discovers that the dead man was not who he claimed to be. So what was his real name-and who put a bullet in his head? Was the confession and his own death related? Or was there something else in the victim's past that had led to his murder? The inspector's only clue is a gold locket - found around the dead man's neck - that leads back to Essex, an insular village that will do anything to protect itself from notoriety. For notoriety brings the curious, and with the curious comes change and an unwelcome spotlight on a centuries' old act of evil that even now can damn them all.