The death of his wife in childbirth sends unemployed Dermot Heenan into such a tailspin -- after a day muttering about how he's been justly punished, he retreats to silence and his bed -- that his children are afraid he'll be institutionalized and they'll be parceled out to the tender mercies of Her Majesty's government. So the two eldest, Annie and Matthew, plot to keep Dermot's decline from the world by taking on the management of the house, their two younger brothers, and their incoherent father. All goes surprisingly well until Dermot's brassy ex-lover Carmen O'Keefe (no wonder he was repentant, reflects Matthew) comes around looking for him. After an initial skirmish, Matthew and Annie tell Carmen that Dermot doesn't want anything to do with her; but this tactic, so successful at first, doesn't prevent Carmen from turning up again in their garden, dead. The children have no energy to wonder whodunit; instead, they feverishly hide her body, scan the Leeds newspapers for headlines that never come, and pray that they've heard the last of Carmen -- never suspecting that her mother-in-law, Connie, will soon follow her steps to their door. Connie's soothing advent, which at first seems to let all the tension out of the Heenans' story, ends by provoking as many surprises as you'd expect from the versatile Barnard (A Hovering of Vultures, 1993) in this memorably off-kilter tale.