A priggish, button-up sort is set upon by an unknown, or almost unknown, assailant and is buried alive. Flash forward to meet Paul Jenkins, a friendly, charming widower. After a satisfying career, Paul decides to retire and move back in with his sister by the English seaside. Upon his arrival, the pragmatic Paul is surprised to find that his sister, following the death of their parents, has developed an interest in spiritualism. She is not only attending seances, she invites the medium to their home.
While Julia is fascinated by the messages the medium relays from their mother, Paul dismisses them as vague, mumbo-jumble tripe uttered by a scam artist. Julia is first offended by Paul, but then agrees with him after an urgent warning from the medium not to let Paul move in with her. Defensive of her brother, Julia allows him to move in with her. Paul is charmed by his new life by the sea where he grew up, falling right back in with his old high school friends (while being appalled at how age has ravaged them) and rekindling a romance with his first love, Angela, who’s heart he broke years ago.
Paul enlists his son, Gary, to do construction work on their home. One night while Julia is vacationing in Greece, Paul and Gary are awoken from one of their mother-of-all hangovers (yes, there are several in the book, all at terribly inconvenient times as hangovers are wont to be) by noises downstairs. Father and son surprise a young burglar who rushes Paul. Paul, armed with a hammer, swings, and the curly blond youth is out for the count. Truly out for the count. Gary urges Paul to call the police, but Paul is wary of not being believed and prevails on his son to assist him in burying the dead lad under the porch they are building. Gary is shocked at the way his kind and loving father so coolly decides upon this course of action, out of keeping with the image of the father he always had. However, father knows best, and Gary assists in disposing of the body.
All is safe now. Or is it? The kid was acting alone, wasn’t he? And the dead are silent, aren’t they?
This fast-paced novel flies by in one surprising turn after the next where nothing is what it seems. Author Richard Gardner knocks over the reader’s assumptions like so many dominoes.