It is 1873. Mrs Eliza Touchet is the Scottish housekeeper - and cousin by marriage - of a once famous novelist, now in decline, William Ainsworth, with whom she has lived for thirty years.
Mrs Touchet is a woman of many interests: literature, justice, abolitionism, class, her cousin, his wives, this life and the next. But she is also sceptical.
She suspects her cousin of having no talent; his successful friend, Mr Charles Dickens, of being a bully and a moralist; and England of being a land of facades, in which nothing is quite what it seems.
Andrew Bogle meanwhile grew up enslaved on the Hope Plantation, Jamaica. He knows every lump of sugar comes at a human cost. That the rich deceive the poor.
And that people are more easily manipulated than they realise. When Bogle finds himself in London, star witness in a celebrated case of imposture, he knows his future depends on telling the right story.
The 'Tichborne Trial' captivates Mrs Touchet and all of England. Is Sir Roger Tichborne really who he says he is? Or is he a fraud? Mrs Touchet is a woman of the world.
Mr Bogle is no fool. But in a world of hypocrisy and self-deception, deciding what is real proves a complicated task...