Sam Walker met Arthur Patterson in the midst of the mud and misery of the Italian campaign, and by the time World War II was over they were closer than brothers. Their friendship survives Arthur’s disastrous marriage and Sam’s multiple infidelities to a woman Arthur worshipped. Then, in a burst of seemingly inexplicable rage, Sam kills his wife and later commits suicide, leaving his three daughters destitute and homeless. Unable to provide for his friend’s offspring, Arthur allows the two younger children to be adopted and places the oldest, Hilary, in the care of Sam’s slovenly sister and her equally despicable husband.
The intervening years are a perpetual nightmare for Hilary. The abuse and neglect are so horrendous that only the dream of being reunited with her sisters sustains the young woman. Unfortunately, once Hilary is free for the long-awaited reunion, she is devastated to learn that Arthur is completely unaware of their whereabouts. Consumed with hatred and resolved to take revenge upon Arthur, Hilary undertakes to acquire the wealth and power which will make that retribution possible. Years later, aware that he is facing imminent death, Arthur engages the services of a private investigator to locate the three women. John Chapman, a weak yet likable individual, is able to accomplish the task. Thus it is that, after two decades apart, the three sisters are reconciled, and Arthur can meet death with a certain degree of equanimity.
Steel has constructed a tale full of pain and human frailty, punctuated with the catastrophes which often result from actions generated by the best of intentions. The reader is propelled through the work as the author plays skillfully upon the emotions. Still, the novel is somewhat incomplete. It is as if Steel’s original intent was cut short by the demands of immediate publication. In consequence, the elaborate character development of the earlier chapters is abandoned, and the remaining portions of the work are so rushed as to lack credibility. Nevertheless, Steel’s many devotees will undoubtedly find reason to enter once again into the world she so carefully creates.