Eighteenth-century Europe was characterized by a highly structured social order where the concept of the 'gentleman' was paramount in polite society. It was also the 'Age of Reason' when the intellect was supposed to triumph over emotion. Improver Bayne is concerned with a particular episode in the life of an eighteenth-century landscape gardener, a learned scholar and gentleman, newly arrived in Britain from a voyage to the Indian Ocean. His return to his native Scotland coincides with the aftermath of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 and, to his disbelief, he shortly finds himself incarcerated and sentenced to death by hanging. His narrow escape heralds the onset of a journey through familiar and dangerous territory where strangers and friends may alternately help or hinder his progress in fulfilling a mission set by his deceased father. Several attempts are made on his life as he follows his destiny. Distractions in the form of an attempted highway robbery, the seductive charms of a beautiful aristocrat, and splendid ornamental gardens set within the noble Lowland landscape, contrive to delay his progress.
Bayne's destiny is contingent on recovering several religious artifacts with the capacity to exonerate or condemn him further. The connection of these holy relics with the royal houses of Britain and Europe and the history of the Roman Church sets the scene for a finale involving death, revelation and enlightenment.
Improver Bayne's message resonates through the centuries and prepares the reader for an alternative view of history likely to intrigue or offend many of the established orders of western society.