Set in a remote spot on Curlow Creek in New South Wales in 1827, this novel opens with the arrival of an officer who is to oversee the execution the next morning of the sole surviving member of a gang of bushrangers (outlaws). The officer, Michael Adair, spends the night in conversation in the hut with the condemned man, who like him is Irish. Daniel Carney, the condemned man, wants to talk about the injustice in the world, while Adair wants to find out whether one of the killed bushrangers was in fact the younger brother in the family into which he was adopted. Over the course of the night Michael's life is revealed to us.
The characters in his family in Ireland are nothing short of wild; the woman who took him in when his parents died had married a footloose chap and in their 14 years of marriage, had lost a baby each year. When Fergus came along after Michael was taken in, she no longer believed in the possibility of a baby surviving and acted on the assumption that if she showed attention to the baby, he would slip away. In this and other particulars, we come to understand how profoundly unique they were. It is Michael who cares for Fergus and comforts the mother in her hysterical moments.
While the focus is on the crazy Irish family, we do learn about the three troopers guarding the prisoner, both in the time before Adair arrives, and the next morning. An intense book.