Set in rural England sometime around the seventeenth century, this tightly controlled first novel is told by a young woman who works as a maid in the Great House and returns often to visit her mother, who is a mid-wife in the village. When Dora, a huge woman from the village, with apparently equally huge appetites, is found dead, the village is not long in deciding that this may be murder, rather than the accident it appears to be.
Skillfully incorporating a vast amount of period detail when establishing the setting and atmosphere, Tobin also incorporates medical treatments, dreams thought to be inspired by the devil, and graphic accounts of childbirth, burials, and bewitchment. Itinerant elixir-salesmen, domestic workers in the Great House, local pub patrons, and magistrates provide color and supplement the main characters--the cruel master of the Great House and his sadly deformed son, the sickly and deluded mistress of the house, the narrator's stern and private mother, Dora's simple 11-year-old son with the body of a man and a hidden cache of gold, and Dora herself, who arrived in the village suddenly from afar and whose past is mysterious. The narrative is very smooth and conversational in tone, flowing quickly and apparently effortlessly. The story is uncomplicated, with a grand finale of an ending. Lovers of romances will find it especially appealing. Mary Whipple