Artist Nicholas Bassington-Hope is a lightning rod, attracting both passionate admiration from his supporters and passionate anger and even hate from his detractors. On the night before the opening of his exhibition at a famed Mayfair gallery, Bassington-Hope falls to his death from some scaffolding as he prepares to hang his masterpiece. He was alone at the time. Or was he? Was it really an accident or was it murder? The police rule an accident. His twin sister Georgina isn't so sure.
On the advice of her former mentor at Girton College, Georgina enlists the aid of fellow Girton graduate Maisie Dobbs to investigate and discover the truth. As Maisie pursues her inquiries, she finds herself strongly attracted to the Bohemian lifestyle of the Bassington-Hope family, artists all, except for the eldest daughter Noelle, the practical one in the family.
At the same time, Maisie's personal life is in a shambles, as she struggles to find a civil way to break off a romantic relationship that she has come to realize isn't going anywhere and is one that she doesn't really want. She still has not completely mended the breach with her teacher and mentor Maurice Blanche, and to top it off, tragedy strikes when the daughter of her assistant Billy Beale is struck with deadly diphtheria. Then his two sons also get the disease. Maisie is beset with anxieties and concerns but still must struggle to focus on keeping faith with her client and giving her her best effort.
But as she probes deeper into the mystery, she uncovers more and more concerning the secretive Nicholas and his circle of artist friends, as well as his younger brother who it seems may have been involved with some underworld characters and who Nicholas may have been attempting to extricate from his difficulties. Could those associations have led to his death?
Once again, Maisie's uncanny, almost supernatural, intuition guides her through the maze of information and clues and leads her to a solution that will eventually bring peace to her client, which is always Maisie's ultimate goal.
Jacqueline Winspear again, in her fourth Maisie Dobbs mystery, recreates the atmosphere of the early thirties in London; the desperation of jobless men trying to find a way to care for and feed their families, the anguish of parents with sick children and no money for doctors or medicine, and, above all, the haunted and sorrowful memories of those who served in and survived the Great War, many of them with injuries both physical and mental that will never heal. One feels the sadness and depression suffered by an entire society in that long ago period. Ms. Winspear has done her research on the period very well indeed.