Preston, Lancashire, 1740, and a breathless boy appears with a message for the coroner, Titus Cragg. The body of the local squire's wife has been discovered in the woods with her throat cut. Titus is obliged to hold an inquest. However, this turns out to be merely the first in a series of inter-connected deaths and as he struggles to understand the complicated chain of events that lie behind them, he has to deal with the aristocratic hostility of the squire, the superstitious imaginings of local peasants, and the petty-jealousies of rival officials.
A cleverly crafted mystery with an unexpected plot twist, this is also a well-researched piece of historical fiction. What's most impressive is the sense of authenticity that derives not only from the inclusion of period detail but also from the narrative voice which perfectly evokes the patient, meticulous and slightly fussy character of the embattled coroner as he weighs the conflicting claims of duty and conscience.