A second atmospheric story of obsession and breakdown in the Welsh mountains, from the British author of the well-received The Cormorant (1988). Andrew Pinkney is a 25-year-old paralegal, a well-liked member of a Sussex law firm, as is his girlfriend Jennifer. Their friendship founders on his failure to satisfy her sexually; she laughs at him, he knocks her unconscious, and their employer suggests Andrew take a break at his North Wales cottage, which is where the story is set, during four gloomy autumn weeks. In the disgusting damp, his only companion his dog Phoebe, Andrew broods over his impotence (""he squirmed at the memory of his flaccidity""). What spurs him to action is a stinkhorn, a phallus-like fungus also known as a woodwitch. His plan is to cultivate a stinkhorn out-of-season and present it to Jennifer as a token of his self-mockery. One thing leads to another: his project calls for meat-flies, and what better breeding-ground for them than dead creatures? Soon a badger and a swan are hanging in the outhouse, putrefying wildly. (This is not, as they say, a book for the squeamish.) Meanwhile, the natives are acting up; on Halloween, one stuffs a live cockerel down the chimney, while his young sister Shan (""she was in cahoots with the stinkhorn, a member of the same coven"") offers herself to Andrew; again, he fails the test. In an unconvincing climax, Andrew accidentally kills Shan, then burns her body along with the outhouse creatures, before returning to Sussex. Very little happens, and nothing is resolved, in this unpleasant novel, which lacks the power of The Cormorant (and may lead readers to wonder which was written first); its energies go to waste in recklessly repetitive accounts of decomposing bodies.