Literary sherry parties were not Alan Grant's cup of tea. But when the Scotland Yard Inspector arrived to pick up actress Marta Hallard for dinner, he was struck by the handsome young American photographer, Leslie Searle. Author Lavinia Fitch was sure her guest "must have been something very wicked in ancient Greece," and the art colony at Salcott St. Mary would have agreed. Yet Grant heard nothing more of Searle until the news of his disappearance. Had Searle drowned by accident or could he have been murdered by one of his young women admirers? Was it a possible case of suicide or had the photographer simply vanished for reasons of his own?
Inspector Grant and most of the other characters sense from the beginning that there is something "unreal" and even "wrong" about Leslie Searle. To Grant he is "disconcerting," to Lavinia Fitch "uncanny," and to Toby Tullis "a materialized demon." Serge Ratoff, searching for the worst possible insult, calls him a "middle-west Lucifer." These foreshadowing, logical in context, are even more satisfying in rereading. Once the mystery has been resolved, the reader recognizes how brilliantly the clues are laid down and is able to appreciate the complexity of the characterizations.
"Something very wicked in ancient Greece."
No one, confided the popular authoress Lavinia Fitch, had ever made her feel so abandoned as Leslie Searle, "I'm sure he must have been something very wicked in ancient Greece." And practically the whole art colony of Salcott St. Mary would have agreed — the "morning-of-the-world" good looks of the young American did affect them peculiarly.
Quiet Liz Garrowby, no artist herself, longed to paint his portrait, Miss Easton-Dixon, author of fairy stories, excitedly pointed out that he was the famous photographer of famous movie stars. Marta Hallard, the sharp-tongued actress who thought herself incombustible, admitted she was drawn to him. But Emma Garrowby, Liz's possessive stepmother, saw him as a menace to her well-laid plans, and loathed him on sight. And Walter Whitmore, Liz's fiancé and broadcaster of radio talks about the bliss of country life ("My dear, I hate the way he yearns," was Marta Hallard's comment), had reasons to hate him. Serge Ratoff, the weedy ballet dancer, emptied his beer mug in young Searle's face. And Toby Tullis, his sacred egotism as a playwright outraged by Searle's indifference, set about frantically to win his favor.
But no one would have dreamed that the handsome youth would disappear on a canoe trip down the Rushmore River with Walter Whitmore — the pewter-colored Rushmore, with its tricky currents, odorous mud, and its well-kept secrets. And that was when Detective-Inspector Grant of the Yard was called on the scene, and finally remembered something odd in the reports on Mr. Searle from America.
It is good to meet again Detective-Inspector Grant of Scotland Yard. At the start of the story he is going to collect an actress friend from a literary sherry party; he rubs shoulders with a very good-looking, "lost" young man — Leslie Searle — who wishes to be introduced to Lavinia Fitch, authoress, for whom the party is being given. Grant effects the introduction, is vaguely intrigued by certain qualities in Searle's manner and appearance, and then forgets all about him until the day he, Grant, is sent down to Salcott St. Mary to search for the young man's body.
Was he murdered? Was it suicide? Was he even dead? Was it a practical joke? Had he been abducted? Or had he suffered from amnesia and just wandered away? First Grant thinks one thing, then another, until eventually he gets on the right trail and with characteristic brilliance solves the mystery.