Tom Doyle is the youngest, least experienced reporter on a small local newspaper in Kent, but has big ambitions. There's not really a lot going on in the area - certainly nothing that will help him make his name - so when he stumbles across the tale of a mysterious 'monster', a local bogey man called the Looker, used to frighten children, he hopes he can build it up into an interesting feature piece. Hanging around the church supposedly frequented by the Looker, Tom stumbles on something or someone else - a war widow who takes an interest in him because of an uncanny resemblance to her dead husband. Through her he's introduced to an upper class world in which he doesn't fit, but finds himself attracted to her daughter Alice, flighty and wild, and quite unlike anyone, particularly any girl, Tom's met before. Alice, though, despite her youth has a dark murky past, and the Looker isn't the only evil lurking in the marshes.
The story unfolds as a now-elderly Tom revisits his home after a long absence, and as he looks back on his youth he realises that those days might not have been as innocent as he believed at the time. I feel there's a certain vein of 'nostalgia TV' that portrays the '50s as some sort of idyllic, post-war, almost traffic-free, happy, gentler world. In Tom's reminiscences we see things as they were more likely to have been - narrow-minded, prejudiced - and from attitudes towards women or the forever-after sanctity of marriage I found those prejudices irritated me, but I'd rather know how things really were, than believe in a misplaced utopia.
Something that shone through, was the author's love for all things related to flying. Tom is waiting anxiously for the day when he'll be called up to join the RAF for his National Service, and is enthralled by anything and everything about it. Personally, I have a fear of flying and heights, but joining Tom on a jaunt above the Kent marshes I could almost see the appeal.