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On March 24, 1946, World Chess Champion Alexander Alekhine is found dead in his hotel room in Estoril, Portugal. The cause of his death remains mired in controversy three-quarters of a century later, when a letter of his that could potentially rock the art world, along with a cache of World War II artifacts, is unearthed in a routine home renovation in upstate New York. The letter is addressed to a person of international repute and offers information about art works looted during the German occupation of Paris in exchange for safe passage to the United States. It reveals just enough information to establish the authenticity of Alekhine’s claim, but no more.
Charles—“Chuck”—Bloom, the stash’s owner by default, enlists his former art history professor and mentor, Harrison Wheatley, to advise him on how to share his find with the public. A presentation is scheduled at the Owen Gray Art Gallery in lower Manhattan. The event is widely publicized, but the only individual besides Chuck to have laid eyes on the chess master’s letter is Harrison.
As he approaches the gallery on the evening of his presentation, Chuck is fatally stabbed by an unknown assailant, the briefcase containing his materials for display, seized. Harrison, blaming himself for putting Chuck in harm’s way, hurls himself into the mission of finding his killer. While the detective on the case focuses on the most logical suspect near at hand, Harrison travels to Paris and Auvers-sur-Oise on a hunt for information relating to the theft alluded to in Alekhine’s letter. He is convinced, as is his wife and sleuthing partner, art editor Erika Shawn, that the cold-case looting and Chuck’s murder are interconnected and will be solved together or not at all.
While Harrison travels abroad, Erika stays at home with their newborn son and follows lines of inquiry from the safety of her home office. Her participation does not remain sedentary for long, though, when, in true form, she can’t resist following a critical lead farther afield.
The stakes become higher along with the murder count. As the couple’s involvement in the case deepens, an unsettling problem in their relationship intensifies. In all matters, a denouement, for better or worse, is destined to occur far from the comforts of home.