An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.
We are in 18th Century
England the Protestant King George II is on the throne. The country is still at
war with France and Spain. These are tumultuous times with change overtaking
much of the population. The economy is moving away from a predominantly rural
subsistence agricultural to a more efficient larger scale means of food
production. The wealthy are promoting improvements that quite regularly mean
people being put off the land by Enclosure Acts with ensuing public unrest.
year is 1743 and the setting is the town of Preston. It is less than two years
before the town would be a staging post on the route south for the Bonnie
Prince's rebel army and still within living memory of the Battle of Preston
when the Old Pretender's Jacobite army under The Earl of Mar was besieged in
the town. In the siege many of the town's buildings were burned.
is still the biggest divider of the population. But, certainly in Preston there
is one group of people who are isolated and disliked by most of the townspeople
Protestant and Catholic alike. The tanners ply their dirty, foul smelling and
offensive trade on the outskirts of the town. It is no secret that many of the
town's merchants and the Corporation would like to take over the area occupied
by the tanners for improvement.
when a newborn baby is found in one of the tanners' pits blame is soon laid at
their door. It must be the bastard child of one of the tanners' families. A
stillborn got rid of as quickly and quietly as possible.
is not convinced about whose child it is and how the poor little body ended up
in the pit is a mystery. The situation becomes even more serious when Fidelis
concludes that the child was not a stillborn birth but was a victim of murder.
are powerful people in the town for whom this incident is providential. The
Mayor and his allies can now pursue the tanners and use it as a justification
for seizing the pits.
holds his inquest in the nearby Inn. Before it is over and just as his
questioning of a witness is beginning to reveal potentially damning facts a
fire breaks out. Wooden buildings burn fast and there is fear and panic as
people try to escape with their lives.
and Fidelis are a winning combination. The steadier, well respected and married
lawyer Cragg is thoughtful and considered, but without the insightful
scientific work of Fidelis he would at times struggle to find the answers
alone. Fidelis is younger, eager, a man of science who divides opinion in an
age still respectful of the traditional medicine of the humours. His modern
techniques and medical knowledge are far in advance of many of the
local medical men.
are many more twists and turns to this case as Cragg is removed from the Office
of Coroner when found guilty on a charge of indecent assault. The town's
politics, society and morals are all tested.
is the fourth case for Mr Titus Cragg, Coroner and Dr Luke Fidelis his Medical
Assistant. It is an intelligently written, entertaining and engrossing
historical crime novel.