When Tess Angel receives a solicitor’s letter inviting her to claim her inheritance – the dilapidated but beautiful Villa Sirena, perched on a clifftop in Sicily - she is stunned. Her only link to the island is through her mother, Flavia, who left Sicily following World War II and cut all contact with her family. Could this be Tess’s chance to find out why?
Initially resistant to Tess going back to her roots, Flavia realises the secrets from her past are about to be revealed and decides to try to explain her actions. She compiles a book of her family’s traditional Sicilian recipes as a legacy to pass on to her daughter and tells her story which began in the summer of 1944 when she rescued an injured English pilot in the countryside near her home in Cetaria and helped nurse him back to health.
Meanwhile, Tess’s teenage daughter Ginny has lost her sense of direction. She is stressed by college and by her blossoming sexuality and consumed by questions that she longs to ask her father - if only she knew where he was.
Tess, a qualified diver, discovers the beauty of the underwater marine conservation area of Cetaria and falls in love with her inheritance. But there is a mystery attached to The Mermaid’s Villa concerning the missing Il Tesoro. What is this treasure and what does it have to do with her family? Tonino Amato and Giovanni Sciarra both seem to want to help her find out. She is drawn to Tonino, who creates dazzling mosaics from sea glass in the ancient baglio and tells her of the myths and legends of Sicily. But Giovanni warns her against him. Why are they sworn enemies and who can she trust? Tess must navigate a way through the prejudices of Sicilian history and the opposition of her family’s enemies in order to find out.