The time is the 18th century. The Marshalls are a faded gentry family living in Bristol. After both parents and various siblings die in an epidemic, Philip, the eldest, departs for Italy on what little money is left, and returns some years later, having reinvented himself as Filipo di Vecellio, Italian portrait painter. Settling in London, he presses his surviving sister, Grace, into service as his housekeeper and soon becomes rich and fashionable. However, Grace is the one with the Real Artistic Talent, and, in between going out with her basket in search of provisions, paints in secret, in defiance of the convention that a lady may be an amateur painter, but may only paint flowers. Gradually her talent becomes known, and she is invited to participate in a fraud which will be the coup of the century.
Barbara Ewing has done her research thoroughly, but wears it lightly. The Fraud makes an enjoyable read, though the ending comes out as a little of a damp squib after earlier excitement.