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Martin Frobisher has been beating close family members about the head with an epergne. Frobisher, successful publisher and community leader, is in the City Remand Centre, awaiting trial for murder. What shadow has fallen across the comfortable lives of Frobisher, his ambitious wife Coralie and her flaky sister Madeleine? What has led a cultivated and reflective man, known to shoo spiders and earwigs out of the harm's way, to such reckless acts of violence?

With the prospect of imprisonment for the Term of his Natural Life, can Frobisher and his research assistant Petra find guidance in the life and fortunes of a brilliant young Englishman, marooned in Australia, 'the land of vulgarity and mob rule' more than a century earlier, and obsessed with the darker moments in the nation's history? Why does Frobisher appear to care more, in the end, about the life of Marcus Clarke than he does about his own?

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