Torie O’Shea, the most dedicated genealogist in New Kassell, Missouri (Killing Cousins, 2002, etc.), wonders why Stephanie Connelly, a young woman with the familiar-looking eyes, keeps staring at her. When Stephanie reveals it’s because she’s Torie’s half-sister, Torie’s not surprised to learn that her father had an affair, but has a much harder time accepting the fact that he’s withheld the news from her. The former only child must cope with this life-changing revelation at the same time that her beloved New Kassell is confronted once more by its own past: The historically low level of the Mississippi River uncovers the wreck of the Phantom, a steamboat that sank in 1919. Soon journalists and historians arrive, interested because wealthy heiress Jessica Huntleigh and 26 others died in the wreck, and fortune-hunters appear, drawn by the never-recovered suitcase of uncut diamonds supposedly carried by a Phantom passenger. Bradley Chapel, television journalist, pushes hard to get access to the Historical Society files, and Professor Jacob Lahrs and his two assistants, Jeremiah Ketchum and Danny Jones, use their academic credentials to start diving among the wreckage. When Torie finds Professor Lahrs murdered, the professor who claimed not to believe in the diamonds becomes the wreck’s 28th casualty. In the end, Torie sorts out a riverboat version of the Titanic movie, fingers the killers, and happily accepts the new branch of her family tree.
As usual, the historical insights are offset by Torie’s narcissism. But the tighter, more suspenseful plot tips the balance in MacPherson’s favor.