P D James creates a fictitious island called Combe near Cornwall, England. James populates Combe with a community of mostly elderly people who escape there—some are long time residents while others drop in for three months or so. Not any one can live on Combe or even visit without having specific inheritance rights or being bestowed rights. It is exclusive. The author explains the rationality of this exclusivity. The main character, Nathan Oliver, is an accomplished author. He is on his regular three month visit here when excitement brews on Combe.
In typical P D James style, the reader is then engrossed in solving the murder mystery that brings in the excitement. Adam Dalgliesh and his team are sent to the island, much to the chagrin of the residents, to solve the mystery. The author, cleverly, inflicts the SARS virus on one of the residents who inadvertently passes the virus onto Dalgliesh who is quarantined in the sickroom. The author enlightens the reader to the intricacies of the SARS virus and its impact on the residents. With Dalgleish out of the picture, Kate and her colleague, Benton are left to work on the murder mystery.
P D James, in a detailed manner, explains the art of solving murders through meticulous sifting of the evidence with the usual unsuspecting person identified as the cause of the murder mystery that envelopes this peaceful island of Combe.