"Can any pigeon, however fast, take a message to a dead man?" The story is set in a mining village in the 1940s, when all the men kept racing pigeons.
Dan Pugh, a miner whose wife died in childbirth, loves the little daughter who survived.
Bethan is brain damaged and cannot do many things, but adores her father and the racing pigeons.
When she is fifteen Dan gives Bethan her own very special bird named Birthday, which turns out to be an extraordinary racing champion.
The villagers supply a rich supporting cast in this story - from Dan's spinster sister who keeps house, and whose heart is being broken by a secret love affair with a local shepherd, to a kindly doctor, ice-cream makers, a classical school master, Italian immigrants, a wayward teenage girl, and more.
When war comes and Dan is reported missing in action, they all try, without success, to explain to Bethan what has happened.
But for her, with her unique slant on human life, death simply has no meaning.
In the end Bethan's solution is to send Birthday to her father with a letter.
But can any pigeon, however fast, take a message to a dead man?