A POST-WORKDAY river cruise. A drug-spiked cocktail. A gossip-fuelling altercation between two of the host company’s top executives.
Eleanor Brennan’s first taste of a Parker & Lane corporate Christmas party is one nobody at the book publishing house will ever forget.
Eleanor has been in London for less than a month when what should have been the beginning of a fresh start overseas suddenly sours.
First comes waking up in her uncle and aunt’s house, where she is living temporarily, with a crippling hangover and a gap of several hours in her memory. Then follows the discovery of the Parker & Lane marketing and publicity manager’s distinctive engagement ring loose in her handbag. And finally Eleanor – along with the rest of the roughly 100-strong office team – is informed that the jewellery’s owner, Arabella Lane, has been found submerged in the Thames’ near-freezing, murky shallows – dead, presumed drowned.
Eleanor, like several dozen of her workmates, witnessed Arabella slap her husband, the company’s managing director Nathan, with full force across the face, without explanation, during the previous evening’s festivities.
Nathan, as a consequence, is immediately declared the number one suspect in his glamorous and temperamental wife’s apparent murder.
But the Lane marriage is not the only one to have revealed the most serious of fractures in recent days.
Eleanor’s uncle Ian and his wife Susan, Parker & Lane’s CEO and resident ice queen, are also at loggerheads.
The stress is evident in the behaviour of the couple’s young daughters, Naeve and Savannah, who – like their barely-adult cousin – spend their hours at home evading the snapping, snarling pair.
As the tension snowballs, ghosts from Eleanor’s deeply troubled childhood in rural Australia resurface, triggering an avalanche of anxiety and self-doubt that threatens to immobilise her right when she most needs to be thinking clearly if she is to survive the aftermath of Arabella’s death.