When Martin Trent calls home to announce his return from an assignment as a tour guide in Venice, his mother, Susan, is filled with fear-a fear based on what has happened before, and her dread of further violence.
She meets Martin, as instructed, at Rotherston station, but on the way to their house in Bishop St. Leon, Martin demands to be dropped at the local pub. Leaving after closing time, he is furious to discover that Susan is not outside, waiting for him in the car, and when he gets home he makes his anger clear.
Why does Susan put up with this treatment? She never mentions it, though neighbors suspect what is going on. Susan covers her bruises with make-up and pretends that nothing is wrong for, despite everything, she loves Martin.
Then Adam Wilson rents a room in the village. He is vague about his background, describing himself as a researcher. He knows where the Trents live, and as he becomes acquainted with various local residents, he is able to acquire information about them without revealing his interest. He meets Amy, who works in the same office as Susan. Roger, one of Adam's housemates, is a police officer, and he becomes anxious about Susan's safety. Before anyone moves to protect her, the horrific truth about the relationship between Susan and Martin is exposed...