It was Patrick's idea that they should have the tennis party. After all, he has the perfect setting - the White House, bought out of his bonuses as an investment banker. He hasn't actually told Caroline, his brash and beautiful wife, what the real reason for the party is. She is glad to welcome Stephen and Annie, their impoverished former neighbours, less glad to see newly wealthy Charles and his aristocratic wife Cressida, and barely able to tolerate the deadly competitive Don and Valerie.
But as the first ball is served over the net it signals the start of two days of tempers, shocks, revelations, the arrival of an uninvited guest, and the realization that the weekend is about anything but tennis.
Both the author and reader win this game of literary tennis, a comedy of manners in which British first-novelist Wickham aces the shallow rich, displaying a wicked backhand along the way. At their country estate, Patrick Chance and his wife host a weekend tennis party of six (two couples, plus a widower and his daughter) that "comes to an unseemly end." Serving as a catalyst for the debacle, the unprincipled Patrick tries unsuccessfully to peddle a financial fund to the superwealthy Charles Mobyn, then cons Stephen Fairweather, a floundering doctoral student, into mortgaging his home to make the same investment. While the couples' children amuse themselves with pony rides and rehearsals for a play, the adults suffer a series of personal revelations and crises. These stem not only from Charles's self-serving schemes but from the unexpected arrival of Charles's ex-lover, Ella Harte, to whom Charles is still attracted, as well as from an unexpected financial threat. In this light, fast-paced novel, where the plot is sure, if occasionally predictable, and the characters are superficial, because that is their nature, Wickham deftly shows at every turn that matters may not be as they seem, but that one truth can be relied upon: money corrupts.