Like Hill's The Sutburys (1989), another bleak saga, smoothly narrated, of another 19th-century family of English gentry—which implodes over the years because of circumstance, cruelty, and general nastiness. At the beginning of the Volland family's story, 50-year-old widow Anna—''a goddess on a pedestal,'' according to one of her adoring young admirers—lolls on her chaise longue, vaguely holding court, while her offspring troop in: a handsome set of male twins, four girls, and a tot. (Grim son James does not bother with ``tea.'') Also arriving is the family's financial savior—loud, vigorously fornicating, 70-year-old Uncle Hubert, his miserable wife, and two wretched daughters, as well as a beautiful daughter of his mistress. At the close, two battered descendants of that teatime crowd meet in the damp and empty house, their haunted and shattered domain. Along the way, there have been natural deaths but also suicide, rape, betrayal, failure, and scandal. A grim chronicle, in all, yet Hill, a skilled storyteller, holds her reader to the hope that someone will escape the raging spread of the Volland family's fatal blight. Hill's audience is assured.