When Christopher Bayliss abandons his studies in Rome, he returns to England determined to be cleansed forever of the contagion of religion and to leave behind his angels along with his demons. But something curious starts to happen when he begins his research into Richard Pelham, an obscure 18th-century poet. Christopher flees once more into a different type of life, into worldly success. Even if he has left behind his own demons, it seems he cannot escape those of Richard Pelham and very soon they begin to take over his life as insidiously and completely as they took over the poet himself two centuries before.
To his own surprise, Christopher finds himself cloistered again, this time in the Richmond bookshop of Stamford Tewk, whose archive is said to contain crucial unpublished material regarding the life and work of Pelham. Christopher comes to see that what Tewk is offering to sell him will be costly, but only gradually does he understand quite how great a price he is being asked to pay.