Again, as in Octavia's Hill (1983), Dickson combines the homey warmth of blueberry-muffin Maine with some gut-serious concerns: even in this grim tale of child abuse, perversion, and madness, there are oases of humor, eccentricity, and down-East atmosphere. Jack Dow, trusted deacon of the small-town church in Freedom, Me., is ""always ready to help."" His family--wife Vinnie, teenagers Maddy and Jessica, three younger kids--is always quiet and well-behaved, if dowdily dressed. But inside the Dow house is a nightmare of terror and dread: blanched with fright, the children witness the degradation and physical abuse of guilt-ridden mother Vinnie, whose mute acquiescence they cannot understand; they themselves suffer vicious beatings from a father deranged by his own battered childhood of cruelty, his memories of a murder and deaths in flames. And, in contrast to the Dows, there's the delightful household of elderly Bea Packard, survivor of Freedom's first family--a lonely and ill woman who's been rejuvenated by two new arrivals: her enormous niece Ann, a cook of soaring talent and garguantuan appetite, fond of jolly commotions; and boarder Jonah Sears, who's been hired to direct the Freedom chorus--a group he'll build from the ground up to compete in state-wide contests. So, when Jonah discovers Maddy Dew's re-markable talent as a pianist (a talent secretly developed by onetime pianist Vinnie), the girl briefly leaves Hell for Paradise--in visits to the Packard house. But while Maddy's psyche opens to hope and warmth, it also shrinks under the growing threats at home. . . as Jack's terror of exposure fuels his atrocities. And the plight of the abused child is echoed in the doomed career of Elaine, pressured daughter of the town's leading social light--who will be one of the victims in the final town-tragedy here. Despite some shadows of gothic and YA-ish formula: a strong combination of chilling disturbance and country coziness.