Philo Vance, Dilettante detective
John F.-X. Markham, District Attorney
Lt. O’Leary of the Winewood police
Carrington Rexon, owner of the Rexon estate
Richard Rexon, his son
Joan Rexon, his daughter, an invalid
Jacques Bassett, friend of Richard Rexon
Staff on the Rexon Estate
Ella Gunther, caregiver/companion to Joan Rexon, girlfriend of Lief Wallen
Eric Gunther, father of Ella, overseer (caretaker)
Marcia Bruce, housekeeper
Old Jed, The Green Hermit, former overseer
Lief Wallen, a guard
Guy Darrup, chief carpenter
Dr. Loomis Quayne, Rexon family physician
Guests at the Rexon Estate
Carlotta Naesmith, prominent society girl
Dahlia Dunham, political aspirant
Sally Alexander, singer/impersonator
Beatrice Maddox, aviatrix
Stanley Sydes, treasure hunter
Pat McOrsay, race car driver
Chuck Throme, jockey
Locale: The Berkshires, Massachusetts
Philo Vance is invited to visit the estate of Carrington Rexon, in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Carrington is concerned about the security of his emerald collection, due to the presence of a number of guests at the estate. His son, Richard Rexon, is about to host a party to announce his engagement to society girl Carlotta Naismith. Carlotta has organized the gathering whose guests are mostly unknown to Carrington, hence his anxiety about his emeralds.
On his way through the snowy roads to the estate, Vance stops and is enchanted by a girl skating on the estate’s pond. She is Ella Gunther, caregiver to disabled Joan Rexon (injured in a skating accident as a youth). Ella is also the girlfriend of Lief Wallen.
While in the woods the next day, Eric Gunther (father of Ella) discovers the body of Lief Wallen lying at the base of a cliff. Vance inspects the body and suspects murder. While investigating, a second murder occurs.
This book was published after the author’s death. The publishers included two additional pieces: the preface contains a memorial tribute to Willard Wright, and the appendix contains Wright’s (writing as S. S. Van Dine) Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories.