Mitch Berger, a top film critic with a major New York newspaper at a surprisingly young age, has become almost a recluse since his wife died one year ago. He spends his time secluded in his apartment or in the dark recesses of a screening room. Although he continues to dazzle moviegoers and the film elite with his criticisms, his editor and good friend is alarmed about him. As a scheme to pull him out of the doldrums of his grief, she gives him a non-film assignment - to do a color story on the wealthy and social homeowners on Connecticut's Gold Coast. It takes some doing, but in the end Mitch agrees.
He is fortunate to find a cottage to rent on Big Sister, the absolute top-of-the-line private island outside the town of Dorset. His landlady, Dolly, is pleasant and friendly, but some of the other inhabitants of this small piece of land, although too well bred to come right out and say it, are not happy to have Mitch, born of parents only one generation away from Eastern Europe and raised on the city's pavements, arrive in their back yard. But Dolly, whose husband has recently left her, needs the money, and at least she is more than gracious.
The discovery of a body during a bout of optimistic gardening in Dolly's back yard brings on the other main player - Lieutenant Desiree Mitry, one of only three women on the Connecticut State Police major crimes squad, the youngest of the three, and the only black. A dedicated officer, she is the terror of everyone who doesn't really want to give a home to one of her stray cats. She is, as well, a closet artist and a complicated and beautiful woman, and she intrigues Mitch from the start.