When thirty-eight year old Cassandra Ryan discovers her grandmother Nell's secret - that she was not the biological child of her parents, but a foundling - she is intrigued. Inside the suitcase found with the abandoned child at the Port of Brisbane in 1913 Cassandra finds a package of letters, a children's storybook, and a coded manuscript belonging to Eliza Makepeace Rutherford: the Victorian authoress of dark fairy-tales who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century. And so begins the quest to solve a century-old literary mystery.
Convinced that Eliza is her biological great-grandmother, Cassandra bundles up her possessions and heads for England, intent on discovering her family's past. From the rare-book stores of London to the hidden chambers of the British Library, she uncovers Eliza's long-forgotten fairy-tales and begins to unravel a thread leading back to the tail of the nineteenth-century and the coterie of artists who stood on its edge, peering into the modern age.
Cassandra takes a cottage in the Suffolk village where Eliza spent her winters and teams up with Christian Bell, an enigmatic young academic also researching Eliza's fairy-tales. Cassandra is thrilled by her great-grandmother's tales and delights in the emerging portrait of a vibrant, decadent, forward-thinking authoress. As the investigations progress, however, and she starts to decode Eliza's final fragmented manuscript, long-held secrets are unearthed and Cassandra begins to glimpse the horrifying nature of her great-grandmother's mysterious fate.