A Theft of Crabs is two stories: a current murder mystery and a historical story involving multiple generations of a slave family. The slave story progresses from the founding of our nation through the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, Reconstruction, World Wars I and II, into modern times. Both stories are set in Tidewater, Virginia, and take place in and near the Virginia towns of Warsaw and Tappahannock.
The current day murder mystery begins with the discovery of an unidentified, drowned young man's body tangled in the line of a submerged crab pot. The discovery is made by a local crab fisherman who's crab-pots have been recently raided. Jethro Taliaferro, a Virginia marine policeman is assigned the task of investigating the case. His search for answers leads him on a painstaking journey through Warsaw, Tappahannock, and later Mechanicsville and Richmond, Virginia. When the John Doe is determined to be the teenaged son of a prominent State official, Taliaferro is pulled off the case. He then focuses on investigating the mastery surrounding the stolen crabs.
The historical slave story begins when Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, gives his principal slave, Old Eli, a gold coin to safeguard. Soon after, Lee and his wife Becky die without heirs and their Menokin Plantation reverts to Becky's father's family: the Tayloes. Old Eli creates a poem that is passed down from one generation to the next that describes were the coin is hidden.
As the two stories conclude, information passed down over the generations leads Taliaferro to solve both mysteries and the dangerous discovery of a sinister plan to commit murder.