A sinister folk song comes to life in a civilized middle-class household as Nell Bray (Dead Man Riding, 2003, etc.) attempts to claim a valuable painting.
The late Philomena Venn, a first generation Suffragette, has bequeathed a French canvas of a naked young woman to the Cause. Because she speaks French, Nell is dispatched to the Cotswolds by the Women’s Social and Political Union to fetch it. When she arrives, she finds the Venn household distracted by a new complication: One of Mrs. Venn’s nephews, Daniel, has invited a splinter group of the socialist Fabians to camp on the Venns’ grounds. Adam, Daniel’s older brother, isn’t pleased by the chaos, nor by the fact that Daniel seems to have disappeared while “hunting”—that is, collecting and writing down folk songs that survive only in the memory of old folksingers. In London, Christie’s informs Nell that the painting is a fake. Back in the Cotswolds, Nell plots to steal the genuine article when her appeal to the better nature of Mrs. Venn’s widower fails—an attempt unexpectedly foiled when she discovers the dead body of one of Daniel Venn’s two fiancées in a cabinet.
A tightly written tangle of women loved and lusted after by men both greedy and well-intentioned. In the end, the simply erotic view of women represented by the painting emerges as pleasant alternative.