It was in the 1880s that Laura Harmon, adopted daughter of a Brooklyn evangelist, eloped with a young Englishman, Richard Parrington. Richard was handsome, high-spirited, and charming. He was a 'remittance man', paid a monthly sum by his rich London parents to stay out of England. He told Laura his family has lost all patience with him because of his periodic gambling -- a weakness that, he felt sure, he could conquer for her sake.
As much as she loved him, Laura gradually sensed that some unnamed evil -- something far worse than a compulsion to gamble -- hovered over him and their otherwise happy marriage. And when Richard died in a mysterious plunge from the tracks of an elevated Manhattan railway, she felt that the shadowy evil finally had claimed him.
Alone in the world and unable to find a safe place to leave her six-year-old daughter Lily, while she worked at whatever low-paying jobs were open to her, Laura turned to her little daughter's rich grandparents for at least temporary refuge, even though they had never acknowledged Laura's existence. From her meager funds she booked third-class passage for herself and Lily, and sent a telegram to Sir Joseph Parrington announcing their arrival.
She was unwanted and unwelcome, but she was determined to survive in spite of her enemies. Here in London she could search for the reason that lay behind her husband's exile and suicide -- the secret that had marked her for murder.