Clive Mortimer - an aspiring politician and son of a wealthy Midlands industrialist, and Freddy Oxley - a mere apprentice - seem the unlikeliest of friends. But something in their past exerts a mysterious power over them. And it is not just Anne Howard, the maidservant who loves and is loved by both - yet cannot find happiness with either.
Travelling to the Cape, the lush jungles of Venezuela, Imperial Vienna, the Ottoman court and the Carribean, the trio seek to create perfect lives for themselves. Yet inexorably their past catches up with them and when a long-delayed time bomb threatens their ruin, the solution they devise is the most astonishing twist of all.