John Harmon’s father has made a fortune from dust and cannot bear to part with a penny of it. Having alienated his nearest and dearest, he makes a Will, declaring his son (now exiled abroad) the sole benefactor if – and only if – he marries Bella Wilfer, an indulged young girl whom he has witnessed beating her father with a bonnet.
Almost two decades later, John Harmon Senior expires, and John Harmon Junior is summoned to England to claim his inheritance, and his bride – but disappears before he can do so. A fortnight after that, Gaffer Hexam and his daughter, Lizzie, pull a body out of the Thames which is identified to be the missing Mr Harmon. Or is it?
Presiding over the inquest is the rakish Eugene Wrayburn, who falls for Lizzie’s charms and determines to seduce her, much to the chagrin of Schoolmaster Bradley Headstone, who considers her his property.
So begins one of Dickens’ most magnificently complex plot-lines of love, murder, mistaken identity, greed, envy, and the incontestable importance of being true to yourself, no matter what.