An accessory-mad costume drama by one of the genre's leading lights that, like other Laker originals (The Silver Touch, To Dance with Kings, etc.), focuses on an antique trade--in this case, Dutch painting in the days of Rembrandt and Vermeer. Indeed, Laker's heroine, young Francesca Visser, knows Rembrandt, since her temperamental but lovable dad is one of Amsterdam's chief dabbers. But when Francesca's mother dies, father Hendrick really loses it, gambling himself into such serious debt that the only way out is to affiance Francesca to the awful merchant (and former privateer) Ludolf van Deventer. First, though, she lands an apprenticeship with Vermeer in Delft, where she flowers into an accomplished painter and where her true love, a tulip-grower named Pieter, visits her on the sly. Meanwhile, Francesca's two sisters have a few adventures of their own, with serious Aletta giving a handsome amputee some physical and emotional therapy, and flighty Sybylla figuring out that love is more important than money. And as the Francesca-Ludolf nuptials draw uncomfortably close, Pieter digs up proof that Ludolf's a French spy, thus helping to save the day when Louis XIV makes an unsuccessful attempt to wrest Holland away from the Prince of Orange. Obviously, lots of research went into this, resulting in a plethora of details about iconography, tulip-breeding, 17th-century guilds, etc. Certainly lovers of Flemish painting will be beguiled- -even though the plot doesn't quite sizzle and Laker's writing is as much decorating as anything else.