Set in London in the early twentieth century, as are many of Catherine Cookson's novels, this book tells the story of Irene Baindor, once a beautiful woman of high class and musical talent, who was mysteriously ejected from her home with the rich, powerful and dangerous Richard Baindor. The book begins with Irene showing up at the Armstrong law offices in a tattered coat and hat, looking like a street person, having disappeared many years ago and presumed to be dead.
The book then back-tracks to uncover her past with Bella and their ragtag band of lads. Bella is a kind hearted but poor woman who helps out those worse off than she is by providing food and lodging for a pittance. She'll take in any decent person as long as they aren't violent or alcoholic. A mysterious, timid waif of a woman shows up in her yard looking like she had been homeless for a while. She is frightened, particularly of strange men, and almost mute, and Bella takes her in. She calls herself Reenee, but seems to have few memories or her past, and is often scared into a semi catatonic state. She proves to be a hard worker and becomes very dedicated to Bella and her lads and they gradually form a family of sorts.
The years go by and the mystery of Reenee's past is never solved, until one day the name of Dr. Baindor is mentioned in her presence. She decides to visit the doctor, who turns out to be the son she hasn't seen since he was 4. As her memory gradually returns, and she is reunited with her son, the sad and awful truth of her destructive years with Richard is revealed.
Bella is a loveable well-developed character, and the dichotomy of the richest and poorest classes is evident in this book as in other Cookson novels; however not enough of the inner thoughts and motivations of the main character, Reenee (the Silent Lady), are revealed until too late in the book to allow the reader to truly develop any empathy or understanding of her plight.