When the author bought a falling down fortified house on the Staffordshire moorlands, he had no reason to anticipate the astonishing tale that would unfold as it was restored. An increasingly mysterious, set of relationships emerged amongst its former owners, revolving round a now almost forgotten artist. Robert Bateman, in his youth was a prominent Pre-Raphaelite and friend of Burne Jones. The son of a local millionaire, he was to marry the granddaughter of the Earl of Carlisle, and to be associated with both Disraeli and Gladstone, and other prominent political and artistic figures. But he had abandoned his life as a public artist in mid-career for no obvious reason, to live as a recluse, while his father lost his money, and his rich and glamorous wife-to-be had married the local vicar, already in his sixties and shortly to die. The discovery of two paintings by Bateman, both clearly autobiographical, led to an utterly absorbing forensic investigation into Bateman's life. The story moves from Staffordshire to Lahore in India, to Canada, to Wyoming, and then, via Buffalo Bill to Peru and back to England.
It leads to the improbable respectability of the Wills (now Imperial Tobacco) cigarette business in Bristol, and then, less respectably, to a car park in Stoke on Trent. En route the author pieces together, and illustrates, an astonishing and deeply moving story of love and loss, of art and politics, of morality and hypocrisy, of family secrets, concealed but never quite completely obscured. The result is a page-turning combination of detective story and tale of human frailty, endeavour and love. It is also a portrait of a significant artist, a reassessment of whose work is long overdue