Those who look to Georgette Heyer for historical romance will recognize that background as a reason for what is almost a Regency feel in a novel of contemporary days, which somehow never seems convincingly of these times. This is a story that, perhaps, might have been more powerful if set at another time. It is a tale of a family, the Penhallows of Trevellin, in Cornwall, ruled and bullied and outraged by old Adam. Humiliations are heaped on his second wife, Faith, a weak hysteric, on his sister Clare, on his six sons and daughter by his first wife, and his son, Clay, by Faith. The presence of the bestard Jimmie adds another unwholesome note to the total discord. Adam disregards the security of his estate, flaunts doctor's orders and drinks unashamedly, and things come to a climax on his birthday, when Faith, hoping to free her son, poisons him. Police investigation fails to prove her guilt --and the suicide of one of the sons supplies an accepted conclusion, but violence only brings more bitter problems in its wake. This is a purgatory of despotism, of humans riddled by malignity, rather than by tensions from obscure source, which gave Rebacca and The Uninvited their fascination. This is primarily a novel of characters, few likeable, few sympathetic, all brilliantly incised. The publishers are planning a big promotion campaign which may push it beyond its natural sales.