Althea and Phineas Hall have just moved to a small town in Maine to live with their father, who will be teaching at the local college. But their mother is living in Oregon, pursuing her own career. Although not officially separated, both parents and children are uncertain about their future relationships. While struggling with the dilemma of a two-career family and trying to adjust to new surroundings, Althea and Phineas become involved in a series of mysterious events when their father is named as curator of an Egyptian collection, donated to the college by a wealthy benefactor, Felix K. C. Vandemark II. The collection of relics, which includes the mummy of a young girl, appears to be of little real value. However, Althea is intelligent and studious, and, when she observes marks on the wrappings of the mummy's feet, she recognizes them as letters from the Greek alphabet. But Dr. Ken Simard, a professor of history, assures her that she is mistaken.
The fact that Mr. Hall, the newest instructor, has been named curator of this collection seems to please no one. The librarian, Mrs. Batchelor, is particularly angry because the collection is housed in the basement of the library rather than the museum where her husband is curator. Mrs. Prynn, a member of the college's board of governors, is certain that Mr. Hall is not qualified for the job. The Vandemark family is annoyed that the collection was left to the college instead of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. However, a local reporter named O'Meara is quite interested in the collection since she is a recent graduate of Vandemark College.
When someone tries to steal the mummy, Althea and Phineas suspect everyone who has shown an interest in the Vandemark legacy; and when the mummy is actually removed from the collection, Althea begins to unravel the mystery. But when she is abducted, it is her younger brother Phineas who comes to her rescue and brings her safely back to their father. Throughout the novel, Voigt pokes quiet fun at academic politics and raises serious questions about a woman's role in relation to career and family.