When Matthew’s beloved wife Molly died, long before her time, her son Mark grieved as much as anyone. Mark had always been a disappointment to his father – while the family business, a prosperous antiques and junk shop in Manchester, gradually went into decline during Molly’s illness, Mark was more often out stealing than helping out at the store. Tilly Povey, famous for her whiplash tongue and her copious ironing, watched the boy’s decline with a heavy heart from her house across the street. Stella, Molly’s sister, had done well for herself – now a doctor, she had always loved Matthew, and wondered whether the time had now come when he might, perhaps turn to her in his hour of need. But Matthew, obsessed with his loss, was gradually falling apart and none of those who were closest to him could, it seemed, do anything to help.
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