At the old family manse in Louisiana, Special Agent Pendergast is putting to rest long-ignored possessions reminiscent of his wife Helen's tragic death, only to make a stunning - and dreadful - discovery. Helen had been mauled by an unusually large and vicious lion while they were big game hunting in Africa. But now, Pendergast learns that her rifle - her only protection from the beast - had been deliberately loaded with blanks. Who could have wanted Helen dead...and why?
With Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta's assistance, Pendergast embarks on a quest to uncover the mystery of his wife's murder. It is a journey that sends him deep into her past where he learns much that Helen herself had wished to keep hidden. Helen Pendergast had nursed a secret obsession with the famed naturalist-painter John James Audubon, in particular a long-lost painting of his known as the Black Frame.
As Pendergast probes more deeply into the riddle - the answer to which is revealed in a night of shocking violence, deep in the Louisiana bayou - he finds himself faced with an even greater question: who was the woman he married?
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