Penney uses the missing-person plot rather than the whodunit to provide a thread for her narrative. One day Romany Leon Wood shows up at Ray Lovell’s failing detective agency to hire him to find his missing daughter, Rose. Lovell has some immediate concerns about the case, primarily because Rose has been missing for seven years. Leon has a Gypsy’s reluctance to go to the police about the case but trusts Lovell because he’s half Romany—his father was born in a field in Kent while his mother was gorjio, or non-Romany. The novel starts with Lovell in a hospital, partially paralyzed and vaguely remembering a recent sexual encounter, though he’s unsure whether this was memory or hallucination. As he gets well, he takes us back to his initial steps in tracing Rose’s disappearance. Besides Lovell, Penney uses JJ Janko, a Romany teenager, as her other narrator. JJ is concerned about Ivo, his uncle, but especially about Ivo’s son Christo, who’s suffering from a rare and seemingly incurable disease, one that Ivo himself had had as a child and “miraculously” recovered from. (Ivo had made a pilgrimage to Lourdes, where they also take Christo in a desperate attempt to cure him.) Fortunately, Lovell has a pediatrician friend who’s able to give insight into the nature of Christo’s illness and how it’s genetically transmitted from generation to generation...and it turns out that it’s impossible for Ivo to be Christo’s father.
Penney gives her plot plenty of twists and saves the best for the end, with a truly unforeseen and unpredictable conclusion.