The chronicle of dogged journalist/novelist Blackwood's quest to discover the fate of Wallis Simpson--for whom King Edward VIII gave up the throne and settled for the title duke of Windsor--after the death of her husband. Blackwood's obsession began with an impossible assignment- -reporting on Lord Snowdon, who had been commissioned by the London Sunday Times to photograph the duchess--a celluloid encounter that was never to take place because her formidable keeper, the female French lawyer Maåtre Blum, never permitted it. But in trying to sway the terrifying octogenarian lawyer (``If you do not write a favorable article about the Duchess--I will not sue you...I will kill you''), who kept the duchess in her French home with no visitors for a decade, Blackwood became determined to comprehend ``Master'' Blum and her victim, the once ``dreadful Mrs. Simpson.'' Blum, an accomplished lawyer whose clients included Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney, was given the duchess's power of attorney soon after the duke's death. After a few fruitless interviews with Blum herself, in which the Windsors are exalted as a sober, cultured couple that no one knew them to be, Blackwood tracks down surviving Windsor pals. A parade of wistful, wizened aristocratic women--such as Lady Diana Mosley--tell tales about the duchess's love affair with Woolworth heir and profligate Jimmy Donahue and her public humiliations of the besotted duke. From other sources Blackwood hears that, in Blum's care, the duchess, once heralded for her sense of style and shunned as sex incarnate, has shriveled to half her size, turned black, and is fed through pipes in her nose. By weaving semi-sordid speculation with famous factual tidbits, Blackwood spins a very ``dark fairy tale'' indeed. A terrifying look at how far the mighty can fall when infirmity and poor judgment put them into nefarious hands.