The place is Ceylon, the time the 1930s.
Set amid tea plantations, corruption and the backwash of empire, this is a world teetering on the edge of chaos. Sam Obeysekere is a Ceylonese lawyer, a perfect product of empire. His family, which once had wealth and influence, starts to crack open as political change comes to the island, and Sam's glamorous father dies leaving gambling debts.
At the heart of the novel is the Hamilton case, a murder scandal that shakes the upper echelons of island society; Sam's involvement in it makes his name but sets his life on course of disappointment.