When Matthew Vereker arrives from the American Mid-West on a year's exchange as vicar of All Hallows on Helmsley Island, he thinks there are no people in England, but only 'members of classes dying behind their stockades'. He soon finds that the reality is more complicated. Helmsley Island, once known as Smugglers' Island, is cluttered with smart bungalows, decaying cottages, day trippers, squatters, archaeologists, agitators - and the ghosts of nuns who walk in the grounds of the old priory. Besides the normal if varied manifestations of Christianity there are the followers of the Ancient People, antedating Christianity, who dance in the nude at nights.
As summer moves into winter Vereker strives to cope with a variety of problems; his patchwork parish; his young daughter, Nan; Zoe and Tudor Lindsay, cousins and once lovers; Milo, the strange vital boy who looks for gods and finds one inside himself . . . There are some problems that arose before we came on the scene and will continue after we have left, but one problem perhaps Vereker can solve: his own. When the time approaches for him to return to America he knows that things will never be the same for him again.