At her birthday party, aging actress Mary Bellamy revels in the attentions of family, friends, and fans, right up to the moment that one of them murders her with a puff of deadly perfume.
Mary Bellamy is the sweetheart of the London stage, fluffy as only an elderly lady of 50(!) can be. Her fans and friends-and who didn't adore, positively adore darling Mary?-are heartbroken when somehow Mary manages to spritz herself not with her favorite perfume but with the deadly insecticide meant to be sprayed on the azaleas. Inspector Alleyn begins by smelling something fishy (everything he learns about lovely, fragile Mary suggests that in fact she was a rather vicious battleax), but he very quickly starts smelling something different...something like a rat.