There's a shadow here of the legendary Ballinford doom, and a conviction that heroine linty is fey; otherwise this is not one of Hunter's fleshed-out folk-tales but a realistic novel set in a Scottish village in the 1930s--when a sort of feudal arrangement still prevailed with the paternalistic ""bad old Earl"" as chief landowner and employer, and when a ""forge wedding"" performed by the blacksmith would still be honored and the annual ""corn dolly"" harvest ritual still celebrated by the Earl and all his people. As this opens, a troubled linty is on her way to give testimony of some sort; and as she remembers different scenes from her childhood we get to know the secrets and personalities of her mother and sisters--and come to see, as she has through the years, the different aspects of the once-feared, recently deceased old Earl of Ballinford. It turns out that the Earl has committed suicide in order to save his son from the doom (whereby no son has ever lived to succeed his father), that linty was the last one to speak to him before his death, and that the whole village has been secretly waiting and hoping for the decision she finally does make--to respect the old Earl's confidence, thus helping to save the young one, by discreetly withholding information. In a way, Hunter's picture of community solidarity and acceptance of an inequitable status quo might be a fairy tale after all--but there is more to this than nostalgia for the bad old days. She gives the feeling of getting very close to the people as they were, and she reminds us of the unsuspected, sometimes contradictory qualities in each of them and the humanity that joined them all.