As the Upper Marshwood hunt heads off into the distance with the unforgettable sound of the horses and hounds in pursuit of the fox, a filthy tramp runs for cover in the woods, he stumbles and falls into a pit screaming. Barnaby is on holiday when he hears about the death and is surprised to learn that Chief Inspector Pringle has arrested Billy Gurdie, a local, well known for petty crime. Barnaby isn't convinced but when the body of Billy's father is discovered it looks as is the Chief Inspector was right all along. Barnaby decides to find out more about the villagers.
Barnaby's favourite Aunt, Alice, is recuperating at the Lawnside Rest Home when one of her fellow residents dies. There doesn't seem to be any suspicious circumstances and it is assumed to be just a case of old age. Aunt Alice, however, is not so sure. Alice complains of hearing footsteps in the corridor in the dead of night and claims to have spotted a stranger sneaking around the place. When one resident is found dead followed by another. Barnaby and Troy take notice and set out to uncover the truth.
Preparations are well under way in Midsomer Mallow for the Perfect Village Competition. However, when the body of local rogue Peter Drinkwater is found with a pitchfork protruding from his chest, the village people are determined to keep it quiet. After all he was hardly popular in the village. Angry parents, jealous husbands, victims of crimes believed to have been perpetrated by the deceased and disgruntled lovers all had reason to want to see the back of Drinkwater. Meanwhile, as the Perfect Village Competition gets under way one of the judges is poisoned in view of the entire village. Barnaby and Troy must unravel the web of lies if they are to solve the murders.
When a portrait of Jonathan Lowrie, a wealthy royalist who was killed by a Roundhead musketeer, is slashed at the Aspern Tallow Museum, Barnaby and Sergeant Troy are called in to investigate. A strange series of events follows the act of vandalism in the Aspern Tallow village. The local art restorer is convinced that the picture resembles her recently departed husband, the church bells start ringing out in the middle of the night, a packing case in the museum catches fire whilst the two detectives look on and the body of Marcus Lowrie, a distant relative of the man in the portrait, is found beaten to death in his ancestor's grave.