Grace and Mercy are very different women, but are both caught up in the war between Germany and France. When Grace is hit by a loose shell, Mercy seizes the chance to escape her past as a fallen woman and convict by assuming Grace's identity and travelling to England.
Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824, the eldest son of the landscape painter William Collins. In 1846, having spent five years in the tea business, he was entered to read for the bar at Lincoln's Inn, where he gained the legal knowledge that was to give him much material for his writing.
From the early fifties, he was a friend of Charles Dickens, acting with him, contributing to Household Words, travelling with him on the Continent. Dickens produced and acted in two melodramas written by Collins, The Lighthouse (1855) and The Frozen Deep (1857).
Collins is best remembered for his novels, particularly The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868), which T. S. Eliot called 'the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels'. His later, and at the time rather sensational, novels include The New Magdalen (1873) and The Law and The Lady (1875). Collins also braved the moral censure of the Victorian age by keeping two women (and their households) while marrying neither. He died in 1889.