This is a story of guilt and expiation by one of the modern American masters of the novel. The time is right now and the place is Manhattan, with an occasional trip to the country where the rich and those on the way up repair for weekends and holidays.
Tony Lowder is the able and good-looking grandson of an Irish immigrant who prospered as a contractor and left behind a family that has been running downhill. Except Tony, who has a promising future in politics. He has married the only child of an old, correct New York family, he and Lee have two normally difficult children, and she tolerates her husband's continuing affair with wealthy Joan Conway, who was Tony's mistress before his marriage. There is always pressure for more money, and it has become acute with a drop in the market. The novel is a brilliant exploration of what happens to the inner experience as well as the surface relationships of these sophisticated and intelligent people when the agony of temptation, not resisted, makes its way into the center of their lives.
The temptation emerges from a brokerage house under investigation and some Mafia figures ready to pay for a slight change in timing that may rescue the firm. What follows shocks the city and drives these people against each other even as it involves them more deeply.
Behind his intimate knowledge of the world of lofty social position and power, Louis Auchincloss's basic concern is with the human being shaped through problems of moral choice. He follows the intricate paths that his characters must trace with the skillful ease that makes an absorbing story. All the while he is reaching toward a fundamental question of what happens to people when their loyalties are put under unexpected acute pressure, particularly to the man who loves everyone the same.