November 1853. Inspector Field has summoned his friends Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins to examine a body found in an attic studio, its throat cut. Around the body lie the lacerated fragments of canvas of a painting titled A Winter of Despair. Wilkie realises he recognises the victim, for he had been due to dine with him that very evening. The dead man is Edwin Milton-Hayes, one of Wilkie's brother Charley's artist friends. With his own brother under suspicion of murder, what secrets lie among the close-knit group of Pre-Raphaelite painters, who is the killer in their midst?