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When twelve-year-old Phoenix Wainwright is told he is to spend the summer in an old house in the middle of nowhere with his father and cousin, he is not best pleased – especially when it is revealed that Gravenhunger Manor belonged to his dead mother, Elvira, a secret which she kept from both her husband and son during her lifetime.

Before departing for the Manor, Phoenix comes across a letter from his mother to his father, in which Elvira apologizes for her secrecy. She explains that something quite terrible happened at the house during her childhood, something for which she has never been able to forgive herself and which she cannot bring herself to confess to anyone…

On arriving at Gravenhunger Manor, the newcomers are overwhelmed by a sense of chill and foreboding, in spite of the brilliant sunshine and summer heat outside the Gravenhunger estate.

Who, or what, lies beneath the peculiar barrow-shaped mound on the other side of the treacherous river; what is the shadowy presence that lurks above it; and what is the meaning of the inscription on the plaque in the little chapel within the grounds?

Together with his cousin, Phoenix embarks upon an extraordinary and terrifying adventure to solve the family mystery.