'David's coming next weekend,' Grandpa said."" These, the novel's first words, have a vaguely ominous ring in context, but they are forgotten for a while as 14-year-old Noel, sister Clara, twelve, and Bosie, the baby at ten, adjust to living with a gruff grandfather and an undemonstrative grandmother they had never met. The children's mother has been estranged from her parents since her marriage--Father was Jewish, poor, and an actor--but now, with Father in a mental hospital, she's had to send the children to them for the duration of his illness. Then David, about 25 and rude, shows up and proceeds to terrorize the household. It turns out that he's the orphaned son of Grandpa's son by a first marriage the children's mother had been ""kept in the dark"" about. David seems to be interested in his grandfather's money and sullenly jealous of his affection, which he clearly doesn't have. In time, David gets rid of the housekeeper (the old people's only contact with the outside world), reduces Grandfather to a humiliating meekness, takes over the old man's gun, wrings the neck of a dollhouse doll, bullies them all, viciously beats up on Noel until Grandfather intervenes with a pitchfork, and refuses to leave. By the time he has dug an eight-foot-long by six-foot-deep asparagus bed, David's dark hold on his ""hostages"" has become truly frightening--yet the children's mother, on an overnight visit, scolds them for their suspicions. (A typical example of grownup blindness, Noel and Clara agree.) Then a police car delivers Bosie home from some trouble at school, and David splits on his new motorcycle (a gift from Grandpa); crushed, he has jumped to the conclusion that the grandparents have called the police to remove him. By then Noel, the first to dislike David, has come to pity his unlovable cousin. And when the children's parents pop in (Father is shaky but on the mend), the others tacitly conspire not to ""worry them"" with the story of David. As Bawden tells that story it's a roundly compelling one, notable for the subtly managed suspense and for the varied and evolving views of David, the shifting reactions and relationships within the captive household, and the way that readers, from before the first meeting and even after he's gone, are led--without a trace of bullying on Bawden's part--to modify their own feelings toward him in exact accordance with her intent.