The spotted shell contains a code which can be read only after the shell has been heated, and then only with the aid of the scrap of Chinese newspaper in which holes are punched--and this scrap of newspaper has gone out in the trash. From the moment Wendy Williams arrives on St. Thomas, V.I. to live with her cousins Marion and Gordon, everything is wrong; the determination of this twelve-year-old New York girl who has been shunted around from home to home while her widowed father is off building bridges to be accepted in her new and permanent home helps to set some things right again. Her reactions to her family-to-be-reveal all sides of her complex character: she learns to love Cousin Marion who is bedridden with grief over the drowning of her son and the recent loss of her husband missing and presumed dead in Vietnam, Aunt Elinor, whose concern for Marion forestalls any immediate compassion for the homeless Wendy, and gentle, kindly Uncle Paul. A desperate struggle on the edge of a cliff and the joy of an old Chinese gardener in the letters of his own tongue solve the mystery of the shell. Cousin Gordon, presumed dead, is not, and Wendy has found a real home at last. No extraneous characters, no die ex machine no pat solutions mar this intriguing, involving mystery plus.