Only death is immortal ...

Markus (Mark) Marley is proud to have become a vet, working with senior partner, Bill Yates, in the village of Ambover, having escaped from a poor upbringing on a run down council estate in a mining area. He soon reflects that, while he lives in a beautiful cottage, and it actually has rambling roses around the door, the countryside is not all nature and nurture. There were plenty of birds tweeting and the meadows were full of buttercups, but there are still people dying in unexplained ways and buildings being torched. It was not quite the Windsor Farm Estate, where he grew up, but he began to wonder whether the difference was perhaps a bit more cosmetic than he’d realised.

He joins in the local social life and gets to know a wide range of the rum characters in the rural environment, including his best friend and squash partner Henry, a philosopher and a farmer. He becomes besotted with Charlotte (Charlie) Bramble, the vegetarian animal activist, who now works in the post office after a spell in VSO in Africa. However, he seriously damages his reputation, with her and the police, when he becomes a suspect following the sudden death of the Master of the local foxhunt.

Charlie, who is a black belt at judo and a member of the Animal Liberation Front, seeks Mark’s help in uncovering cruelty to animals on nearby Devils Table Farm, which is run by the bizarre Lucas family. Following a number of unexplained incidents involving the increasingly sinister Lucases, Charlie suffers a serious injury and is left in a coma. Mark gradually pieces together a picture which involves the illegal meat trade, banned drugs given to farm animals and the blackmail of his partner, Bill.

The cathartic death of Charlie’s granny brings her closer to Mark and together they stumble into the nasty hidden world beneath the rural idyll. He now feels compelled to unravel the mysteries of Devils Table Farm and goes there on a whim, seeking evidence. He succeeds only in being anesthetised by an animal tranquilising dart and imprisoned in a concealed freezer. Death and mayhem occur in the gory closing scenes with George and Jenny Lucas revealing the brutish secrets of Devil’s Table Farm including, not only the illegal meat trade, but infanticide and cannibalism. All seems lost for Mark until, to his relief and embarrassment, Charlie turns up on a mission of her own and rescues him.

Charlie’s dad throws her out after she is arrested for harassing the local foxhunt and, in desperation, she agrees to move into Mark’s cottage as a lodger. The grateful Bill offers them the use of his villa in the Algarve to recuperate, leaving the possibility of romance hanging in the air.


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