In 1898, librarian Gwen Barlow, her eccentric mother, and her teenage brother Preston abandon their quiet Ohio village for exciting new lives when Mrs. Barlow inherits a gaudy, fully furnished Mississippi River showboat from her mysteriously deceased brother Eli. For recreation Gwen rides a Monarch ladies’ bicycle, appropriate for a New Woman who is more independent and better educated than her mother. Due to Gwen’s superior schooling, she finds herself appointed stage director and showboat manager when the family takes up life afloat.
The local constable claims Uncle Eli’s sudden death was accidental, but when a disagreeable young deckhand turns up stabbed with his own fish knife, Gwen feels compelled to track down the murderer. Suspects abound among the crew and the storeowners of the river town, where the boat remains docked for nonpayment of debts. Uncle Eli’s enemies include a felonious former boat captain, the charming and flirtatious new captain, and a jealous former leading lady relegated to a secondary role by Eli’s infatuation with a new ingénue. In her first mystery, historical romance author Thomason throws her prim heroine into a plot melodramatic enough for a real showboat.