The tale of an upper-class New England family besieged by tragedy, deception, and the dark secrets that undo them.
The Carterets are an established industrialist family coasting on declining wealth, but still in possession of a high opinion of themselves. Headed by patriarch Jasper Carteret III, they are a close-knit clan, used to official family meetings and secret agreements.
Though he maintains a strained relationship with his father William, the eldest of Jasper’s four children, is close to sisters Tinker, the overbearing family caretaker, and Mira, the moody, thoughtful one. But Pony—the lovely, headstrong, youngest member of the Carteret family—is his favorite. Happy-go-lucky, vibrant and athletic, she’s also the family’s strongest swimmer. So when she is discovered drowned at the family’s summer home on Lake Aral, Vermont, her red hair tangled in an anchor chain and her baby abandoned on shore, her family is stunned by disbelief.
As the police conduct their investigation, Jasper, calls an urgent family meeting to address Pony’s death. Why had she been swimming away from shore when her infant son Andrew lay unprotected on the beach? How had she managed to drown in a lake she knew so well? Who was the stranger that their neighbor, a teenage boy, had seen with her on shore? Had any of her siblings known that Pony would be at the house that day? Was she depressed? Had she ever revealed the true identity of her baby’s father?
Ultimately, the police rule the drowning an accident. But unsatisfied with the official explanation, William sets out to discover the truth. His investigations quickly lead him to a new and more daunting series of questions, not only about the mysteries in Pony’s death but also about the shadowy details of his deceased mother’s past and even his own. Before long, he has opened a Pandora’s box of family secrets, including one dangerous fact his mother had kept hidden.
His two surviving sisters keep their own secrets. Tinker is called on to look after baby Andrew, but meanwhile her marriage quietly dissolves; Mira, lost in a fugue of sadness, becomes entangled with a disturbing friend of Pony’s. Even the revered Jasper proves to hold on by a slender thread. William’s probing ultimately casts doubt on his own parentage, and the entire edifice of family unity and privilege begins to crumble. Beneath these deceptions lies the secret of Pony’s death, a secret which may claim William’s life as well in a frantic, pulse-racing finale.