Whit and his family (father, Harold; stepmother, Fiona; half-sister, Charlie) have just moved to Provenance, NC, in the middle of the Great Depression. Harold will be teaching at nearby Duke University. Not-quite-10-year-old Johnny soon makes a friend in Emmy, who lives across the street and joins him in his adventures. At his new school, he encounters a bully who makes his life miserable, and he makes a new friend in Huck, the custodian. Both of them play key roles in the mysteries and action.
The central mystery in book 1 involves Confederate gold missing since the end of the Civil War and the question of whether Johnny’s ancestor was the coward and thief who stole it, as everyone believes.