In the small rural town of Qonda, South Africa, the power and water supplies are unreliable, property prices are down, and citizens are slowly suffocating in
the acrid smoke from the municipal dump. Recently retired English teacher Megan Merton has lived here all her life, most of it at No. 8 Serpent Crescent. So
who better than this self-styled pillar of society to shine a spotlight on the decline and dysfunction, not to mention the dubious activities, past and present, of many of her neighbours.
Nefarious deeds and bad behaviour deserve harsh treatment and appropriate retribution, if not consignment to one of Dante's fiendish nine circles of hell. At least that's what Megan believes - in fact she's been taking matters into her own hands, unnoticed, for years.
And now she has decided to write it all down, to shake all of the skeletons loose, and rejoice in the inventive punishments she devised and personally delivered to the wicked. Then her neighbour Elizabeth Cardew, a lecturer in Classical Studies, suffers a stroke and Megan is entrusted with the keys to No. 9.
While Elizabeth begins a long recovery at the local care facility, Whispering Pines, Megan relishes the chance to snoop. Curious as to 'what a stroke victim looks like', she decides to visit and see for herself. A bond develops between the two women - one a cold and calculating sociopath, the other a courageous and lonely academic - something that takes both of them by surprise.