Hore’s canvas is Norfolk, England, at the estate of 18th-century astronomer Anthony Wickham. He spent countless hours in a brick folly—a tower—constructed for the study of the stars, meticulously recording his notes and observations. When Wickham’s heirs find it necessary to sell the astronomer’s vast collection of notes, books and artifacts, they contact Jude Gower at Beecham’s auction house in London. With family ties to the area, Jude sees an opportunity to combine business with pleasure, evaluating the material at Starbrough and reconnecting with her sister, Claire, who lives nearby with her young niece, Summer.
Thrilled with the quality of the goods offered by the estate, Jude settles in to her evaluation but is not as successful on the domestic front. It seems the sisters have a history of sibling rivalry that still rankles, though they find common cause for concern in the nightmares Summer has recently been experiencing. Worrisome for Jude is that Summer’s dreams are eerily similar to her own recurring nightmares. In an even more bizarre twist, both Summer and Jude’s dreams are connected to a story told in a recovered diary from the Wickham estate.
Transcribing the handwritten pages, Jude is enthralled by the unfolding tale of a young girl Wickham calls Esther—he calls her his daughter, as well, and plans to make Esther his heir. The girl spends long evenings at the astronomer’s side in the folly, keeping notes and learning the fascinating secrets of the universe. A family of gypsies is featured in Esther’s diary; strangely enough, Jude’s grandmother asks her to research the location of a gypsy friend from the old woman’s childhood at Starbrough Hall.
With the air of a gothic mystery and the veiled threats of bad intentions, it is clear that there are links between past and present, Starbrough Hall, the Wickhams and Jude’s own family, unlikely though it may be. While the nightmares hint at a deep psychic connection, a local man, naturalist Euan Robinson, adds more contemporary interest to the tale, causing friction between Jude and Claire and awakening old grievances they thought put to rest.
Numerous details beyond the historical are found in Norfolk and Starbrough Hall and Wickham’s personal effects: the strained history between the sisters; Jude’s widowhood and her awakening interest in Euan, a local developer threatening to demolish the folly; and Jude’s elderly grandmother’s search for a gypsy friend to make amends for a wrong done lone ago. Hore ties everything together rather too neatly to be believable. Fortunately, this element is balanced by the insider perspective of an auction house preparing an important estate for sale and the scientific implications of the work done by an astronomer and his protégé. The mysteries of the universe put everything into focus as the characters struggle for closure while a sea of stars drift above.