Jimmy Mason, who withdrew from the world and lived in a hut in an obscure corner of Esang, England, until his death at the age of 84 (in 1942) fascinated the author as a boy, and when Trevelyan was 18 and prior to the hermit's death, he found a diary covering two years just before the turn of the century. And soon after, Trevelyan searched his hut- and the dead man's belongings- tins of coppers, marble, buttons and rice, newspapers, letters and lists. But Trevelyan's real reconstruction of the eccentric's life did not begin until many years later and it is a patient and pertinacious investigation, of people who knew the recluse, of letters and newspaper articles, of assorted opinions of all kinds- a psychiatrist, a graphologist, an astrologer, etc. Certainly there was much in the original diary to spark his interest- Mason's hatred of his brother- the ""raskle"" Tommy, his belief that his brother was poisoning him- and did poison his dog, his references to troubles with the bailiff and townspeople, and to two young women- one of whom is believed to have jilted him and caused his retreat. For connoisseurs of curiosa, it is a quietly, palastakiagly pursued recreation of a sad, lost life as well as the 19th century village in which it was framed.