In July 1864, a corner of the Isle of Wight is buzzing with literary and artistic creativity. A morose Tennyson is reciting 'Maud' to empty sofas; the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron is white-washing the roses for visual effect and the mismatched couple, actress Ellen Terry and painter G. F. Watts, are thrown into the company of the remarkable Lorenzo Fowler, the American phrenologist, and his daughter Jessie. Enter mathematician Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), known to Jessie as the 'fiendish pedagogue', and Lynne Truss's wonderfully imaginative cocktail of Victorian seriousness and riotous farce begins to take flight.
England 1819: Thomas Shield, a new master at a school just outside London, is tutor to a young American boy and the child’s sensitive best friend, Charles Frant. Helplessly drawn to Frant’s beautiful, unhappy mother, Thomas becomes entwined in their family’s affairs. When a brutal murder takes place in London’s seedy backstreets, it is not certain who either the victim or the killer is. But all clues seem to lead back to the Frant household, and Shield is tangled in a web of lies, money, sex and death that threatens to tear his new life apart. And what of the strange American boy at the heart of these macabre events – what is the dark secret of young Edgar Allan Poe?