While holidaying in Italy, Angela Marchmont is persuaded to postpone her trip to Venice and go to Stresa instead, to investigate a pair of spiritualists who are suspected of defrauding some of the town’s English residents out of their money. But what starts out as a minor matter swiftly becomes more serious when one of the residents in question is found dead in the beautiful gardens of his home, having apparently committed suicide.
Seduced by the heady sights and scents of the Italian Lakes, and distracted by an unexpected encounter with an old adversary who seems bent on provoking her, Angela sets out to find out the truth of the affair and resume her journey to Venice before she forgets herself and loses her head—and her heart.
FROM THE IMBROGLIO AT THE VILLA POZZI:
She was about to turn her steps back to the hotel when to her surprise and discomfiture she saw a familiar figure coming towards her up the street. It was Edgar Valencourt, whom she had imagined as being miles away by now. She was still furious with him, and was preparing to cut him magnificently and pass on when he stopped in front of her and said formally:
‘Mrs. Marchmont, I should like to apologize for my appalling behaviour last night. It was quite inexcusable.’
Angela glared at him.
‘It most certainly was,’ she said severely. ‘What on earth did you mean by it?’
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I have no idea what got into me—the devil, I suppose. I had the most awful shock when I saw you in the garden yesterday afternoon, and I’d had rather more to drink than was good for me last night, but to insult you like that was completely uncalled for. I’m terribly ashamed of myself and I apologize unreservedly.’
‘Do you behave like that to everyone you bump into unexpectedly?’ said Angela.
‘No,’ he said, looking uncomfortable. ‘Just you, it seems. I’m sorry, Angela, truly I am. If it makes you feel any better I was awake half the night kicking myself for being such an unmitigated ass. Please say you’ll forgive me. I’ll do anything to make it up to you. Just say the word. What shall I do first? Shoot myself?’ he said with a half-smile, in something more like his old manner.
‘Oh, no need for that when I can do it for you and save you the trouble,’ said Angela sweetly.
‘Shouldn’t you like to call me some names before you do it?’ he said. ‘I can think of a few choice words you might want to apply to me.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ve thought of plenty of my own,’ she said. ‘Luckily for you, however, I was very nicely brought up and should never dream of saying them out loud.’
‘Well, at least you’re speaking to me,’ he said. ‘That’s something, at any rate.’