When Noel Bostock - aged ten, no family - is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, he ends up living in St Albans with Vera Sedge - thirty-six and laden with debts and dependents. Noel is grieving for his godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette who brought him up to share her disdain for authority and her rich and eclectic approach to education. He has little in common with other children of his age; he has nothing at all in common with Vee, who rattles from one self-made crisis to the next, impulsive and rash. She's always desperate for money, and the war has thrown up new opportunities for getting it, but what she needs (and what she's always lacked) is a cool head and the ability to make careful plans. On her own, she's a disaster. With Noel, she's a team. Together, as fake Widow and Orphan, they shake a charity tin from door to door, criss-crossing the bombed suburbs of London. Vee starts to make a profit and Noel gradually begins to regain his interest in life. But there are plenty of other people making money out of the war and some of them are dangerous. And although Noel's been moved to safety, he isn't actually safe at all.