Homer and Mary Kelly, Harvard professors, are on their way to Virginia to attend the 4th of July celebration of the bicentennial of Jefferson's presidential inauguration. It will take place at his historic home/museum Monticello. They will visit Fern Fisher, a former student while they are there. Fern has been awarded a summer grant to write a biography of the former president on site.
Fern has several challenges. First, she has severe writer's block due to her ambivalent feelings about Jefferson being a slave holder. (She has been commisioned to write a favorable book.) Second, she needs to fend off the amorous attention of Augustus Upchurch, elderly president of the Society for Jefferson Studies that awarded her the grant. Third, there have been a series of gruesome murders of young women in Charlottesville. Fern is not aware that the killer is stalking her.
Fern overcomes her writer's block when she develops a friendship with Tom Dean. He is an angry medical school dropout obsessed with the Lewis and Clark expedition. He has illegally pitched a tent on the Monticello grounds so that he can collect the medicinal plants used on the expedition. Fern invites him to the tower room where she is doing her research. They work on a joint Lewis and Clark/Jefferson timeline of events.
The jealous Augustus asks a friend to spy on the two young people. When this friend is killed in Tom's tent, he is blamed for the murder and imprisoned. Fern enlists the help of Homer Kelly to find the real killer and clear Tom. Homer and Mary keep a watchful eye on Fern as well through the story until justice is served.
This report prepared by Susan Coffey