Father inexplicably incommunicado for three years; mother forced to work in the factory accounts department; ten-year-old Maria sad, lonely, relying on fantasy. Befriended by Sam, a teen-aged ""burglar"" caught replacing the Scarlatti manuscript he ""stole"" the night before, Maria goes to meet his guardian, a recluse pianist, initiating a ""secret life."" ""When you are young you soon learn that it is better not to tell your mother certain things, or she gets overexcited."" Between memories of parental arguments (well-handled) and disgust with mother's boyfriend (not overdone), Maria has little besides piano lessons and these new friends to care about, especially when Sam discovers Daddy is in prison in Panama. She wins the friendship of two classmates, prepares for and shares the Guy Fawkes celebration with them, and learns Daddy has been released with compensation (""Isn't that good!... Now Mum won't have to marry Geoff!""). Maria is mature for her ten years but the intricate plot is well developed and the resolution is convincingly imprecise, making the book valid for girls older than Maria.