Author Robert Barnard, writing for the first time as Bernard Bastable, sets his story in the English countryside of 1842 and in the Elmstead Court household of Sir Richard Hudson--comprised of Sir Richard, his wife, son Andrew, and three daughters, the oldest of whom is rebellious 18-year-old Jane. Andrew's tutor is William Worsley, and governess Frances Weyland is a recent addition. Behind a well-bred faáade, Sir Richard, between bouts of illness, rules and intimidates his family with cruel sarcasm and--in Andrew's case--worse. But the reader soon learns, through a series of letters and diary entries, that the real power behind this throne is Sir Richard's massive manservant Joseph, guided by his equally venal mother. Joseph is aware of Lady Hudson's affair with the family doctor; of Andrew's thwarted desire to go to Cambridge; of his tutor's hopes for appointment, through Sir Richard, to the vicarage at Little Burdock, but, above all, he alone has the means to prove murder when Sir Richard dies. The enthralled reader, briskly carried along by the author's literate, subtle, suspenseful narrative, may feel a bit let down by the abruptness of the windup--but the going is sheer delight in the hands of a master of the genre.