Stillton Academy, a small art college on the New England coast north of Boston, is in financial trouble, and its days are numbered unless someone provides extraordinary help. The final straw may be the sudden disappearance of an instructor with a female student—the daughter of the Academy's only significant donor.
Art critic Fred Taylor, called in to troubleshoot, goes undercover as a member of the faculty and shortly finds himself enmeshed in the conflicting motives and designs of faculty and students, as well as those of a board of trustees whose interest in the long term survival of the operation seems lazy, misguided, or—perhaps—a good deal more sinister.
Meanwhile, as the town of Stillton, Massachusetts, is visited by murder, the motives of Fred's employer, the collector Clayton Reed, remain obscure. What is there in the town, or at the college, that whets his acute acquisitive instincts? He will not say, beyond his hermetic instructions, "Trust no one. Look at everything."
And everyone. Fred's assignment takes him to the Life Room, where his students sometimes moonlight as life models. Are his temporary colleagues eccentrics or just artists?
Clayton Reed collects art. That's what he lives for. In sleepy Stillton—a town ripe for development, though suspiciously backward and un exploited—what hidden treasure is Clayton hoping for? And can Fred find it before the college goes up in flames?