Laura and Thomas, her partner in life and crime-solving, are set to enjoy a blissful reunion in romantic Cornwall when mystery strikes. Browsing in an old bookstore, Laura finds a two hundred year old journal written by Isabella Austen, the younger sister of Jane Austen. Complicating the matter, art detective Thomas is in England to investigate a two hundred year old painting of a prominent barrister who may have a woman beneath his wig – a woman rumored to be associated with the Austen family. They are astounded. Did Isabella really exist, and if she did, why does no one know about her?
The answers come quickly: when Laura is attacked in broad daylight, her car disabled, her room searched and her life threatened, she realizes that many people not only believe that Isabella existed; they are willing to kill to obtain her journals, which contain sensational material about the most important political figures of her time that may include the King, and are bound to be best-sellers. And no one knows about Isabella’s existence because her behavior was so scandalous, so inappropriate to female standards of the day that her family thought it best for her to be raised elsewhere. Far from being hurt, Isabella was grateful. As she says: were it not for my family’s decision to send me away, my life would have been exceedingly dull and uneventful; instead, it has been rich and varied, filled with fascinating experiences of all kinds.
Laura discovers that the journal she found is only the first of ten.Years ago, an editor who came across all ten journals faced harassment even worse than Laura’s. Convinced by the evidence she collected that Isabella really had existed, she tried desperately to hide the precious journals before her enemies caught up with her. Since she has not been seen or heard from for almost ten years, Laura fears that her body may lie in the wilds of Cornwall.
Laura and Thomas set off to find her as well as the missing journals. Fortunately, the editor chose to hide them in some of Cornwall’s most atmospheric manor houses and castles, which are a delight to visit. Unfortunately, the journals must be located by solving complex codes devised by the editor. Laura deciphers them while Thomas, ever the opportunist, reads titillating entries from Isabella’s journals.
The action is fast and fierce. Laura trips over a blood-covered body, is trapped in a burning house with her companions and the journals she has thus far managed to rescue. Next, she is kidnapped by a sadistic killer and dumped in a motor boat whose destination is unknown. With her usual irrepressible spirit and perspicacity – and the help of Thomas and an assortment of eccentric helpers like the pick-pocketing young Vicar’s wife and the Shakespeare-quoting police Inspector - Laura comes out alive. She also identifies the criminals, who are not at all the people she had expected them to be. And yes, she firmly believes that Isabella Austen really did exist.