The book begins in May 1953 in Paris with the funeral of Madame Robillard, who, we learn later is one of the main characters in the story. This part of the book is told from the viewpoint of Matthew Braddock, a journalist and BBC news reporter, who was in Paris for a final business trip prior to his retirement. He had not realized she was still alive, and just happened to learn of her death by reading the newspaper. After the funeral service, Braddock is approached by one of Madame Robillard's solicitors, and eventually given documents left for him by Henry Cort when he died. A stipulation was that the documents were not to be delivered to Braddock until the death of Madame Robillard.
The rest of this part of the book is Braddock's memories of what happened forty years prior when he was a young newspaper reporter hired by Madame Robillard, known then as Lady Ravenscliff, to research her husband's death which occurred in London in 1909.
Part Two of the book is told by Henry Cort in 1890 Paris. Mr. Cort was a British spy. Part Three is presented from the memories of John Stone in Venice in 1867. John Stone was the husband of Lady Ravenscliff who died in 1909.
I was a bit mystified at first when I saw the three parts were not presented in chronological order. At the end of Part One, I wondered why there was more to read. It seemed to be a perfectly satisfactory ending. However by the end of the book I understood why the author arranged the book in the way he did. There was no other way to write the story, now that I see it in its whole and the second and third parts were necessary.
The historical references throughout the book are educational without being dry. I also liked the financial information presented by the characters, even though friends of mine who read the book said they skipped over parts of it. I read every one of the 610 pages, some more than once. It is that type of book you want to keep reading, but when it ends, you know there is no more to be said.
I found it an enjoyable read with unforgettable characters and scenes. Unlike some books, there were times I didn't have a feel for where the story was going next, but I just went along and was richly rewarded for doing so. I can't say more about the details without ruining the story for you.