Master Flue Faker Tom Wasp met Bessie Barton when artist Valentine Drake asked him sit with her for a portrait he was painting. Tom and Bessie become friends. So when her murdered corpse is found on an embankment of the Thames, a grieving Tom vows to uncover the identity of her killer.
As Tom and his chimney sweep assistant eleven year old Ned clean the flues, they investigate the homicide. The most likely suspect is Moonman, who Bessie feared and fled from, but Tom has never met and has no idea who he is. He also considers the artists like Valentine who hired Bessie on occasion as a model. However, no matter how hard they clean and dig, Tom knows he will never capture the smile of Bessie except in his dreams, which currently are nightmares.
This is a fascinating late Victorian whodunit that in many ways is more historical than mystery. The story line is very vivid as it cleverly sets the time via tidbits like the year after Prince Albert died and the employment of a pre-teen as a chimney sweep. Fans of late nineteenth century tales with a different flavor will want to read this fine amateur sleuth, as Tom tells the saga of Bessie from his "flue theory of life" perspective.