I read this book about 30-May-2014. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 1947. This note was last modified Monday, 02-Jun-2014 08:30:44 PDT.
This is book 14 of the "Roderick Alleyn" series.
This note contains spoilers for the book.
Roderick has been out of the country for more than two years. Since it's 1947, I'm assuming it's war (and cold war) related work, probably counter-espeionage. It's still an awfully long time not to be home.
So this book starts with Troy being asked to paint a portrait for an important old actor, who is also a baronet. Most of the family is theatrical, and they apply their histrionic skills to daily life, making it a wild household.
The baronet has been in the habit of changing his will periodically, and tracking who is in and who is out is something of a family pastime. Everybody down to grand-daughters plays. Just to increase the tension, the baronet has a much younger girlfriend who he is seriously thinking of marrying.
On the night of his birthday party, where the portrait is unveiled, he dies. Probably from his ongoing gastric difficulties and eating inappropriate foods (canned crayfish from New Zealand! and Champagne!). But maybe from arsenic. People don't think that right away, and he's prepared and buried according to his request, which includes the bizarre order that he be embalmed. An old book on embalming that's kicking around the house says that uses arsenic, so this may have blocked any chance of finding out how he died.
There's been a long-running series of practical jokes, that many people blame on the grand-daughter known as "Panty". She certainly has a history of such stunts, but some of these she has an allibi for, and Troy believe her denial on some others. And in fact they turn out to be a collaboration between the young girlfriend and the heir to the baronetcy (who is willing to consider marrying her himself). The question of whether these stunts have anything to do with the murder consumes quite a lot of effort.
There's also an unfortunate cat, who gets accidentally dosed with thalium acetate and then killed on the false charge that it's carrying ringworm.