Eric Downer and his father John Downer are returning home, after John's annual binge in town, to the 150,000 acres of land they lease at Lake Jane. Three years of drought have dried the lake, killed all the vegetation and most of the sheep. Even from a distance the homestead looks frighteningly desolate. The dog at the gate is near death, the "chooks" are all dead and outside lies the body–not of Brandt the overseer who had stayed behind, but of a stranger. Bony becomes more and more unhappy as he investigates the case and the scant clues all point in a direction which will cause those he has grown to admire much unhappiness.