Cosmo Horrocks was over the moon. This was the juiciest story he'd had in years. In his job as an investigative journalist he spent his working days grubbing through the garbage bins of other people's lives, but this one seemed to have everything: religion - the man was a Catholic priest; sex - he was accused of impropriety with a teenage unmarried mother; money - he was thought to have channelled parish funds in her direction. All the story lacked was mystery, but when it acquired that too, Cosmo soon found himself out of his depth.
The parish of St Catherine's in Shipley is torn apart by the scandal, and by the secretive processes of its investigation. The men, cynically, assume Father Pardoe is guilty, while the women mount a campaign to have his side of the story heard. The investigation, which becomes a police one, reveals dysfunctional families, shady goings-on in high places, and the brittle shell that respectability hides itself behind. When the truth is finally learned about Pardoe's supposed sins, and about the murder which they have brought in their wake, both parish and town have the wraps whipped away from their apparently happy and respectable existence.