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It is the summer of 1948 when a handsome, charismatic stranger, Charlie Beale, recently back from the war in Europe, shows up in the town of Brownsburg, a sleepy village nestled in the Valley of Virginia. All he has with him are two suitcases: one contains his few possessions, including a fine set of butcher knives; the other is full of money. A lot of money.
Finding work at the local butcher shop, Charlie befriends the owner and his family, including the owner’s son, Sam, whom he is soon treating as though he were his own flesh and blood. And it is through the shop that Charlie gradually meets all the townsfolk, including Boaty Glass, Brownsburg’s wealthiest citizen, and most significantly, Boaty’s beautiful teenage bride, Sylvan.
This last encounter sets in motion the events that give Goolrick’s powerful tale the stark, emotional impact that thrilled fans of his previous novel, A Reliable Wife. Charlie’s attraction to Sylvan Glass turns first to lust and then to a need to possess her, a need so basic it becomes an all-consuming passion that threatens to destroy everything and everyone in its path. . . .