A mysterious depiction of masked revellers at the Venice carnival hangs in the college rooms of Oliver's old professor in Cambridge. On this cold winter s night, its eerie secret is revealed by the ageing don. The dark art of the Venetian scene, instead of imitating life, has the power to entrap it. To stare into the painting is to play dangerously with the unseen demons it hides, and become the victim of its macabre beauty
Susan Hill has been a prolific writer since 1963. She was a presenter of BBC Radio 4's Bookshelf. She has won the Somerset Maugham Award (for I'm the King of the Castle); the Whitbread Novel Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Her sequel to Rebecca, Mrs de Winter, was a big bestseller and her short story The Woman in Black was adapted to the stage and has been running in the West End for 18 years. She is the author of a highly successful crime series published by Chatto & Windus. Bloomsbury will be publishing her latest children's story in 2008.