The story focuses on two pairs of brothers and sisters. Anthony Verey, a wealthy but disillusioned bisexual antique dealer from London, visits his sister Veronica in the Cévennes, intending to follow her example, and settle there. Veronica, a fashionable garden designer, is enjoying a late-in-life love affair with Kitty, a watercolourist from a more humble background. Together they are working on a book entitled Gardening without Rain.
Anthony falls for an isolated house called the Mas Lunel. Its owner, Aramon Lunel, is a hopeless alcoholic,who lets his hunting dogs starve and the land go to ruin. He is watched with hatred by his sister, Audrun, who lives alone in an ugly modern bungalow, built on a pocket of Aramon’s land.
Kitty hates Anthony, jealous of his place in Veronica’s affections, and imagines him dying from eating unpasteurised cheese. But her hatred is nothing compared to the depth of Audrun’s hatred for her brother. When the sight of Audrun’s ugly bungalow ruins Aramol’s hope of vast riches, putting Anthony off buying the big house, one fears for Audrun’s safety.
Audrun, who was abused by her brother and her father after her mother’s death, has strange ways, but is far from stupid. Long hours watching television have taught her all she needs to know about murder.
The darkness of the plot is lightened by touches of social comedy and Tremain’s descriptions of the French countryside in the summer heat are superb.
Although all the ends of the clever plot are neatly tied up, the reader feels little sympathy for any of the characters, not even Audrun.