Denton and Henry James, though they had met on a number of occasions on the London literary scene, would seem to have little in common either as men or writers. But when a Florentine box is stolen from James’s house, it is Denton he calls on to retrieve it – perhaps relying on the fact that, unlike the police, Denton combines the ability to unravel difficult puzzles with the sensitivity of a fellow artist. For amongst other things, the box contained three letters whose publication James fears will ruin his reputation.
As Denton tries to discover the mystery of the box’s contents and who might have stolen them, the trail leads him to Paris, and a bizarre family of aristocrats, to Italy, where it appears someone is offering money to have Denton killed, and back to London where a deadly shoot-out with a violent gang of East European anarchists pre-figures the Siege of Sydney Street. But eventually it is in the apparently genteel confines of the literary world that the publication of a new novel provides the final clues to a crime of truly Jamesian subtlety.