Dickie Pentecost, diplomatic correspondent at a failing newspaper, is enjoying a spot of ‘champing’ (camping in a church) with his wife and two teenage daughters when he meets Ethel (short for Ethelbert), a spiky-haired young man who soon charms them all. Ethel runs Making Nice, a PR company specialising in data, and when Dickie loses his job on the paper, he accepts a role with the company. In short order he is sent to Africa and then America to work on presidential campaigns, before being hired as a ghostwriter and special adviser to a government minister. Things are looking up for Dickie, but is Ethel all he seems?
Alarm bells should ring for Dickie when Ethel appears to know everything about the Pentecost family’s background, yet Dickie drifts along on the tide of events, either unwilling to assert himself or incapable of influencing what happens, even when Ethel begins an entirely inappropriate relationship with Dickie’s sixteen-year-old