DCI Barnaby and his wife Joyce plan to renew their wedding vows at St Michael's in Badger's Drift, but this is put on hold when a local property developer, Richard Bayly, is found decapitated in his own home. Barnaby and Troy have a lot to discover as the man had an illness which meant he might have only weeks to live. They discover that Badger's Drift is a hotbed of corruption and property feuding. However, they begin to doubt their theories when more bodies turn up.
Barnaby and Troy investigate the murder of Richard Bailey who is found in his home in Badger's Drift hacked to death. Bailey had recently received bad news from his doctor who informed him that he had a brain tumour. The are many possible suspects, including villagers who oppose Bailey's plan to redevelop a major property, Tye House, into a golf course and residential housing estate and his childhood friend, Ian Eastman, who lost out on an opportunity to develop the new property. Cully Barnaby gets an opportunity to work with Simon Fletcher, a one-time resident of Badger's Drift who is now a well-known director and also happens to be a childhood friend to Eastman and Bailey. When a second murder is committed, the detectives must find a motive that is linked to events some 30 years earlier.