It is late summer, late century, Oxford. Donovan O'Dwyer is dead, but for his fellow expatriate Mike Newall their shared past is still hauntingly alive.
What really happened to a soldier in the infamous Maori battalion, killed in the battle for Crete during World War II? And why did the soldier’s family place a curse on O’Dwyer, the officer who was his commander at the time he died? Half a century later two Oxford dons, Newall and Winterstoke, attend the funeral of their colleague O’Dwyer, an expatriate New Zealander. After the ceremony, Newall reveals to Winterstoke the story of the curse placed on O’Dwyer during the war and, in the days that follow, he continues the tales of O’Dwyer and his ‘cursed’ life. Slowly the stories of Newall, another New Zealander in self-enforced exile, and of Winterstoke are also revealed in Stead’s complex and subtle narrative which shifts across time and space from New Zealand to Oxford to Croatia and to Crete at the time of the allied defeat there.