The Black Tulip
Alexandre Dumas - père
This book begins with the description of a historical event, the gruesome murder of the brothers DeWitt in The Hague, in the Netherlands. This was a time of great antagonisms, between religions, between countries, and the DeWitts were in the middle of one of these moments when power changed hands, and were mercilessly slaughtered (literally) by a mob. The descriptions are graphic.
After this, the scene now shifts to a nephew of the DeWitts, Mynheer Van Baerle, living a simple life in the town of Dort, and very much a tulip fancier. Thus we find our way to knowledge of the great challenge of the time, growing a black tulip, for which a prize and great prestige is promised.
Van Baerle isn't alone in his quest, with the Netherlands full of tulip mania, but one in particular is a neighbor, Isaac Boxtel, who envies his skills at creating new varieties of tulip. So, with the machinations of Boxtel, Van Baerle becomes entrapped in the public antagonism for the DeWitts, and ends up in prison, but not before he has managed to create a true black tulip.
The bulk of the story, then, is about the intertwining of these events, these characters and others, and the eventual presentation of the black tulip. A very enjoyable story.