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The enormously wealthy Durie family occupies a gigantic baroque turn-of-the-century mansion on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The family, whose fortune was established in Colonial times, is traditionally shy of all public notice and proud that no scandal has ever touched its name.

Newly married Michael and Amy Lloyd, bright young teachers in a private school, suddenly find themselves unemployed and apparently unemployable. When all cash and credit are gone, Michael and Amy decide to take up positions on the Durie household staff. But as the Lloyds learn to cope with their positions as servants they slowly become aware that the seventy-year-old matriarch Margaret Durie is, for her own unexplained reasons, enlisting them as her helpless accomplices in a subtly designed series of events that will ultimately lead to a thunderous scandal … and a ghastly death.