Fourth of July at Monticello should be a blast—at least so says University of Virginia professor Ed Bailey in exhorting his Harvard counterpart Homer Kelly (The Thief of Venice, 1999, etc.) to join him for the festivities at Thomas Jefferson’s historic home. Homer and his wife, however, have another reason for agreeing to a two-week stay in a ramshackle apartment in the heart of Charlottesville: Fern Fisher, one of their favorite students, has just been awarded a grant by the Society for Jefferson Studies to write an anti-revisionist chronicle of the president’s achievement, and her sinecure includes an office in the very dome of Monticello itself. This last perk is a source of endless pleasure not only to Fern, but to the Society’s fuddy-duddy president Augustus Upchurch, who takes every opportunity to visit Fern at work. But Augustus isn’t Fern’s only visitor. While wandering the grounds envisioning the late Tom, she encounters a living counterpart: Lewis and Clark enthusiast Tom Dean, who challenges Fern to create and push-pin around the circumference of the Dome a timeline comparing the explorers’ achievements with the statesman’s. The two continue their scholarly vandalism right up to the moment that Tom is mistaken for a serial killer and arrested. Now Fern turns to Homer—who has yet to master a Charlottesville street plan well enough to locate the local supermarket—to find a murderer who has eluded local police for months.
Awash in architectural, biographical, and geographical detail, as well as her trademark line drawings: all in all, more history than mystery.