The frame narrative is set immediately after the final events of the main story. The opening sequence of a man fleeing cross-country with a kidnapped young girl is quite mysterious because it is offered without explanation.
The main narrative is divided into three parts. The first, told with many flashbacks and memories, defines the situation. Five of the oldest and most influential men in Milburn had been meeting, for companionship and storytelling, as the Chowder Society. Sears James and Ricky (Frederick) Hawthorne are lawyers, John Jaffrey is a physician, Edward Wanderley was a writer, and Lewis Benedikt is a retired hotel owner. One year earlier, Wanderley had died while attending a party for an actress he was writing about, Ann-Veronica Moore. After that, the members of the Chowder Society all experienced nightmares, and the stories they told at their meetings turned macabre. Sears James tells a lengthy story, clearly based on Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898), featuring brothers Gregory and Fenny Bate. The four surviving members of the group contact Edward Wanderley’s nephew Don, but they are too late to prevent Jaffrey from jumping off a bridge under peculiar circumstances.
The second section sets up the conflict. Don Wanderley earns admission to the Chowder Society with the story on which his novel The Nightwatcher is based. Two years before, Alma Mobley, a strange and beautiful young woman, seduced Don...
(The entire section is 590 words.)