Chance and bad weather led Deborah St. James and the vicar of Winslough to London's National Gallery to view Leonardo da Vinci's study for his Virgin and Child. The vicar's comment that Joseph is missing from the picture strikes a chord with Deborah, whose inability to bear a child has caused her deep grief and widened the growing rift between her and her husband. Comforted by the vicar's words and affected by his description of the solitude and opportunities for contemplation surrounding his northern village, Deborah persuades Simon to take her on a country holiday in Lancashire where she can regain her peace of mind and see the vicar again. There is only one detail that mars their plans: They arrive to discover that the vicar is dead.
The coroner's inquest has returned a verdict of "death by misadventure," a case of accidental poisoning. But, as Simon St. James quickly realizes, accidentally ingesting this particular poison is nearly impossible. With the assistance of his old friend Thomas Lynley, he intends to find out why no charges were brought against the mysterious, sensual woman who met with the vicar on the night he died and fed him a dinner that was laced with death.
The answer lies hidden among the complex relationships found in this rural northern village, including those between the widowed local constable and a young housekeeper who dabbles in witchcraft; between a reclusive herbalist and her teenage daughter, whose budding sexuality is leading directly to tragedy; between a reluctant bridegroom with a roving eye and his rich, spoiled wife; between the vicar himself, a man with secrets, and his own parishioners.
With a plot that peels away layer after layer of personal history to uncover the torment of a fugitive spirit, Missing Joseph tells an irresistible story of motherhood, loss, love, and disappointment.