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

 

A novel set between 1790 and 1825 which provides an account of the meeting of the first English settlers in New Zealand with the Maori. The story is told by its principal characters, who are all caught together and held by the conflict of ideas and cultures.