A woman's body is found on the English seacoast, and twisted in her hair is an article screaming murder. For Inspector Alan Grant, the case becomes a nightmare, as too many clues and too many motives arise.
The unusual title comes from a still more unusual clause in the last will and testament of superstar actress Christine Clay — an enigmatic legacy to her estranged brother. Clay worked her way up from nothing, with a mother who spoiled her brother rotten while having all kinds of excuses why Christine couldn't have proper schooling. Christine managed to escape to the life of the stage; her rise was so rapid that when she married a wealthy man with a title, she was considered to have made a catch, but within a couple of years he was thought of as 'Christine Clay's husband'. Now she has been found drowned at the lonely seaside place she was visiting incognito, and a youngster who seems like a stereotypical victim of circumstances is on the run, suspected of her murder for what seems like an inadequate motive. And given the brilliance of Christine Clay's shining star, why was she alone on holiday, with neither a court of hangers-on nor her husband?
Robert Tisdall seems the logical suspect in actress Christine Clay's murder because he had much to gain from her death. Terrified by the prospect of arrest and aware that proving his innocence would be virtually impossible, Tisdall disappears. The suspect is absolved by the determined investigative work of the local chief constable's daughter, Erica Burgoyne, who finds Tisdall's missing overcoat and proves that the button entangled in the victim's hair did not belong to him.
A girl's body in a green bathing-dress washed up early one summer morning and left high and dry by the ebbing tide — apparently just another accident to a foolish bather. But the strange girl turns out to be no ordinary holiday-maker after all and the results of her death reach over the world, nor was it quite as accidental as it seemed. A clause in the deceased's will —"to my brother a shilling for candles" — gives the book its title and the police one of their clues in a thrilling manhunt.