This is a novel of small-town life. In Castletown, New Zealand, the stifling culture of 'the correct way to behave' crushes the unorthodox like a dead hand.
Needless to say, just under the surface there is a tumult of rebellion. Which of the inhabitants of Castletown will escape, find self-expression, fulfill their dreams? Who is tormented by guilty secrets beneath a blanket of respectability? Who is murdering red-haired girls?
The narrative is driven by the stories of three families: the snobbish, long-established lawyers; the eccentric impoverished aristocrats; and the Maoris who live outside the town. Each family is dominated by a stern patriarch, and once a week the patriarchs meet to play three-handed chess. Their children and grandchildren, meanwhile, begin to recognize that this structured, ordered world is rotten at its core ...