Way back during the crusades Richard I presented the Huntingforest family with the tiny Balkan state of Averna but since then the kingdom has been forgotten, until circumstances in Europe suddenly render it extremely strategically important to the British Government. They hire unconventional detective Albert Campion to recover the long-missing proofs of ownership - the deeds, a crown, and a receipt - which are apparently hidden in the village of Pontisbright. On arriving in Pontisbright, Campion and his friends meet the eccentric, young, flame-haired Amanda Fitton and her family who claim to be the rightful heirs to Averna and join in the hunt. Unfortunately, criminal financier Brett Savanake is also interested in finding the evidence for his own ends. Things get rather rough in the village as Savanake's heavies up the pressure on Campion to solve the mystery before they do. In the course of the hunt, Campion dresses in drag, takes refuge in a tree, is nearly drowned in a mill race, and his friends find themselves bound and gagged in sacks, shot at, and witnesses to a satanic ceremony led by the local doctor. The rural calm of Pontisbright is well and truly shattered.