Katie Gresham's birthday was celebrated in style. Her parents, famous musician Michael and his American heiress wife, had restored the family's Scottish estates to perfection and the ball attracted neighbouring landowners and friends, urban socialites and even politicians. Three months later she disappeared. Neither she or her body could be found.
In the neighbouring estate lived the Gatehouse family. Earl Gatehouse, the government spokesman for agriculture in the House of Lords, famous for his wealth, ancient title and social brilliance, is known also for his fragile artist wife and four glamorous young.
Both families live in almost feudal splendour, their worlds almost as detached from the normal as the aristocrats of a century before. Celebrated in magazines and society pages, they know that even if one of them goes beyond what the rest of society finds acceptable, that they will have the connections to arrange a cover up.
But twenty years later, Katie's body is found, and Earl Gatehouse is in Dumfries, Sheriff Court on trial for murder. The witness on whom the Crown's case will rely is Lucy Diamond, a onetime friend of his youngest daughter, an outsider to their privileged world, who had come to stay that year of the birthday ball.
Julia Hamilton draws a brilliant picture of an elite group - the arrogance and the fun, the behaviour - sometimes violent and masked as eccentricity - and the privilege, and above all the sense of belonging which makes the privileged think that they can live by other people's rules.