Young and naive, Kathleen Hill moves to newly independent Nigeria with her husband to teach at Igbobi College. It is the early 1960s, and Hill is soon caught up in the swirl of the times: The legacy of colonialism, chaos back in America, and violence and racism across the globe that touch even the quiet school where she teaches English literature. As a way of steadying and finding herself in this new place, she begins reading Henry James's Portrait of a Lady, and there discovers disturbing resonances with her own life.
One day, eleven-year-old Claire Hofer sets out to take lunch to her father, who is raking hay. Nearing the field, she sees only Constable John McIntire. Her father, Reuben, is dead, and McIntire finds the crime baffling. But Reuben Hofer's past holds several secrets, and young Claire may hold the key to the crime.