The Emsbury locals call them “grockles”, summertime visitors that flock to the beautiful estuary of the river Em. The most famous grockle is Meade Daguerre, controversial artist with an international reputation to uphold. Lara Bliss, local artist and president of the Emsbury League of Artists, sees Daguerre as one of her own and takes him under her wing when she hears that journalist Jack Palanga “the Celebrities’ Confidant” is in town after a story.
Palanga is playing his cards close to his chest, but gradually it transpires that he suspects the crew of Daguerre’s racing yacht, which is berthed in Emsbury marina, are using it to smuggle something – possibly illegal immigrants – ashore.
Daguerre is beset by another distraction: nighthawks searching for a horde of gold with metal detectors have plundered an archeological site on his estate. The archaeologists guarding the site are attacked at night in an apparent attempt to drive them off. Matters become more serious when Daguerre discovers a bloody chaos in the cabin of his racing yacht. It appears a murder has been committed there, and the five members of the crew have disappeared.
As July unfolds the police, amateur sleuths – led by Lara Bliss – and journalists seek to solve the twin crimes. As Bliss navigates her own way to an understanding of who are behind them she begins to see that the clash of two communities – and two cultures – means that things are never quite what they seem.
In the end it is Lara Bliss’s young niece, Cornelia, who, with her unbending sense of what is right and what is wrong, pierces the fog of celebrity and exacts her own kind of justice.