When the pesky Anna Bunz arrives at Mardian to investigate the rare survival of folkdancing still practised there, she quickly antagonises the villagers. But Mrs Bunz is not the only source of friction - two of the other enthusiasts are also spoiling for a fight. When the sword dancers' traditional mock beheading of the Winter Solstice becomes horribly real, Superintendent Roderick Alleyn finds himself faced with a case of great complexity and of gruesome proportions . . .