Gentle, wry vignettes of life in a contemporary Scottish village--with particular emphasis on the older folk. The center of Crichton Smith's little pinwheel is the Reverend Peter Murchison, who's dying of cancer (unbeknownst to his somewhat younger wife) and brooding on his loss of faith: he ""felt disturbances within himself as if there was some volcanic evil that was trying to get out, a demon that possessed him like the demons mentioned in the Bible."" Among Peter's crisply profiled parishioners: bellicose, 80-year-old Annie, who engages in shrewd theological debates with local Jehovah's Witnesses and is now turning to ""the East""; slim, fit Mrs. Berry, who tends her garden and grandchildren with a brisk, no-nonsense attitude; old widower David Collins, lost in mild paranoia and memories of the Great War; David's sometime chum Murdo Macfarlane, an ex-postman and professional bachelor (his possessive mum lived to 87), who's puritanically nostalgic for simpler times; Mrs. Morag Bheag, anxious because her son's a soldier in Ireland. And everyone's talking about housewife Chrissie Murray, who has run off to Glasgow with a lover--leaving husband John and their two little girls (taking only her radio!). Eventually, however, after a taste of unpleasant Glasgow bohemia, Chrissie will return--and, surprisingly, when she's too afraid to face her husband, it's stern, upright Mrs. Berry whose shoulder she cries on. Meanwhile, Peter wrestles with the mundane but symbolic church-board debate about whether to let students use the church hall for a dance. And finally there's the annual fundraising picnic, with Peter's faith returning (""he began to fill slowly as if with water, very gravely, very seriously"") . . . while the folk all pull together to comfort Morag when news of her soldier-son's death arrives. Quietly inspirational, sparely poetic, but rarely sentimental in its delicate ironies: a modest, endearing village-portrait from a writer whose work hasn't been seen here since The Alien Light (1969).