JOSH LAWTON, a young Cumbrian orphan and farm worker, is an exceptionally good man. Strong and athletic, he is trained to be a fell runner by Cedric, a garrulous ex-soldier who takes Josh under his wing. But Cedric is alienated when Josh falls in love with Maureen, a worldly girl from the neighbouring town, marries her and fathers a child. However, the quiet and simple life that Josh loves does not satisfy Maureen who seeks excitement back home in the arms of her former lover, a local bully. The betrayal brings Cedric back into Josh's life, eager to discredit the woman who had usurped him. It also leads to a climax that is both inevitable and shocking: Josh, who hates fighting, is drawn into a battle with Maureen's lover and is killed. Cedric, filled with revenge, can only turn his knife on himself. The novel's tragic ending is both a warning against simplicity and a cry for its presence in everything.