Tom Houseman grew up in a poor district of Porthampton. He attended the local grammar school after passing the eleven plus examination. Following school, he attended university and was awarded his Ph.D.. Through his friend, he meets the local criminal boss Mr. Hunt though he never acknowledges the criminal activity. He agrees to become a non executive director of Mr. Hunt’s company. At work he publicly upholds the university rules on relationships between tutor and student even warning one of his colleagues about over stepping the line. In private he ignores these rules justifying his behaviour by claiming to himself that the desire is mutual between him and the student.
Joan Houseman is a pillar of middle class society. An accountant, mother and loyal church member. She is thrilled by the wealth generated by Tom’s activities, by their membership of the exclusive country club on the recommendation of Mr. Hunt and with their status in society. She justifies the ignoring of the contradictions in her life by telling herself that Tom is not doing anything illegal.
Derek Jones is Tom’s oldest friend from their junior school days. He and all of his brothers and sister had an abused childhood oat the hans of his father. He is heading for a life in and out of jail when he beats up his father while protecting his sister from his father’s sexual demands. Tom advices him to find a Mr. Big and attach himself to that person. It is through Derek that Tom meets Mr. Hunt.
Edward Houseman is Tom’s older brother. He is passionately political and a member of the Labour Party. To pursue his political career, Edward applies for and is selected as the Labour Party candidate for a lost cause seat near Porthampton. He persuades Tom to become his election agent. Edward works in an investment bank and sets up an investment fund with his brother, He is good at his work and their investment fund prospers. Edward sees no contradiction between his work and his social conscience.
The novel reaches a climax when Derek, having succeeded Mr. Hunt as leader of his empire, is shot by a rival. Tom then has to choose between reaping the rewards while not getting involved or taking a step across the dividing line between legitimacy and criminality.