DCI Barnaby returns from a holiday in France to discover an unidentified tramp has been beaten to death in the woods near the village of Marshwood. While Barnaby was away, Supt. Ronald Pringle, just before his retirement, quickly arrested a local young man. But Barnaby suspects that he is innocent, which is only reinforced when there is an apparent suicide at the same spot. He tries to uncover the connection before there can be a further murder.