A young girl working in the tanning pits finds a newborn baby inside of the tannery skinning pits starting off a chain of events for Titus Cragg the Coroner. But, the inquest takes time and statements need to be taken as Ellie Kite is the young girl who found the body and the situation calls for finding out if this is murder or did the child dies before being born. What kind of mother would do this and kill a child and who would pay the price? With the aid of Dr. Luke FIdelis he hopes to find the answers but not before an inquest is done but not everything goes according to the proper protocol as the place chosen to do the autopsy and for the inquest is plagued by a deadly fire. Who did this and why fire Cragg from his position? What is being covered up and why? Who ? Meeting his wife Lizzy who is outraged by what has happened to this young child and the preparations to find the answers take this dark turn. When Fidelis returns he takes a hard and long look at the child’s body but not after Dr. Harrod believes in the unlucky luck of a child born under Virgo no less the 13th. Adding it that he should not touch the child without some sort of protection or it might create an illness for him not knowing what is wrong with the little girl.
Lizzy is smart and cannot believe anyone would kill a child and murder it. She is observant, knows her facts and able to hold her own in a conversation.
Yet there is a serious class or caste system quite evident as Mr. Kite along with others sells his leather goods at the market and one Mr.Scroop the hot shot and richest man around wants to change local mores in the name of improvement threatening this man that is goods are inferior, claiming he needs a license and making him appear in court. Things get really out of control when this woman claims that instead of saving her life during the fire he handled her inappropriately and now his life Tradition matters to these people and claiming they are improving things they want to vet out or weed out those who are lower class businessmen and leave it wide open for the wealthy to prosper even more. The mayor and his cohorts have decided to take the town and change it to what they want along with Mr. Scroop. With Mr. Kay with his scientific equipment to survey the area and decide on its worth he has been hired to help with this transition but things will not always be or go as they seem. There is a definite caste system and hierarchy in this town as all walks of life are there from the wealthiest to the poorest showing how goodness does not matter only wealth does.
Many assumptions are made and as Cragg and Fidelis investigate the death of this child more information about Kathy Brock and Jon O’Rouke coems to light but there is much mystery surrounding Dr. Harrod who swears that the paper was a stillborn leading readers to believe he is hiding the truth. When Fidelis does a specific test and proves that someone has taken a pointed and sharp object the child’s ear and plunged into the brain Kathy is assumed guilty due to her loose reputation yet she manages to leave town and go to live with her uncle in Wigan to escape the wrath of the women in this town. Added in Lady Rickaby is after Titus and claims that he acted inappropriately when saving her from the blazing fire. But, will she succeed in getting him fire? Will the wealthy in this town get rid of the dreaded skin year and turn the swamp into a larger docking area?
Things change after he is fired and someone else takes his position and even though he petitions the Earl of Derby to get his job back, and although he disagrees with the verdict he does not do as he asked because he cannot afford to alienate himself from Scroop and the Corporation. Everyone agrees that he is innocent but everyone has something they want and need and no one except the man working for him that takes down the information will defend him. Added in when the inquest is resumed the new coroner declares that Kathy is guilty and with the testimonies received asks that she be brought to justice. But, why did O’Rorke get off easily and why did his testimony stand and make her look bad as we hear and read the correspondence between Kathy and Dr. Fidelis which is quite compelling and enlightening as to her condition. With Elizabeth at his side he hopes to change what has happened but something changes when he keels over and is deathly ill. While Cragg returns to his law practice others are still trying to convict Kathy and the Corporation is out to rid the town of the skinners and the skin yard hoping to create a better atmosphere, rid the town of the awful smells and create a better and more affluent tanning business to improve the town’s wealth and of course the upper class. This is a town run on gossip, corruption, power and greed as author Robin Blake brings to light just how far some will go to get what they want even at the cost of lives of others. As Kathy is finally cleared of all charges after enlisting the help of two doctors, Jon O’Rorke is arrested and although innocent, will Cragg get his off, will he present the proof and why him?
Both Jon and Fidelis are into cock fighting and Jon claims they locked him up so that he cannot compete and if that is the case he might even lose his birds as they are mortgaged. Is that the real reason as he revisit with Kay who is surveying more of the land but not that of the skinning yard. Just where will this all lead to and who will reign in the end?
Events were such that things changed as Thwaite, Grimshaw, Thornley and Scroop treated the public as benefactors and acted in their own self interest. But things take an unusual turn as someone else is killed, when the inquest is completed and Fidelis exams the body we realize that the first child that was killed and the latest victim were killed in the same manner. When the county coroner dies Cragg gets the position and now can conduct his on inquiry into the latest murder. With Joss Kay finally confessing the real reason behind what was going on in the Marsh, why he would now take a position somewhere else, just who killed the child and this latest victim provides a clever and surprising twist to this complex plot of greed, power, revenge, deceit and lies. What role did Captain Strawboy play in relation to the murder? Joss Kay was signed on to develop a complete dock and as his boos did somewhere else. Kay, Strawboy, Lord Derby and Lord Grassington were concerned about the Marsh as was Scroop. A simple passage from the Bible would enlighten the court as to why another child was supposedly dead, the meaning behind someone’s deceit and cover-up for someone close to this person and the destruction of someone’s property to hide the blatant truth behind the words on a child’s coffin. Just who killed this prominent figure and why? What did this person hope to gain? What was the reason? When justifying his/her actions and realizing the truth is told Cragg finds himself face to face with a desperate killer but will he survive the bullets shot at him? An ending that is quite unique, a killer that you won’t suspect and a woman that justified her actions when many have cheated, some are crucified and others wind up nothing more than SKIN AND BONE! Titus Cragg is a great character filled with moral fiber, persistence and backbone. An ending that let’s reader’s know that Cragg’s story has yet to be finished and told hoping that author Robin Blake brings him back to finally set the town of Preston on the right track. A fast paced, interesting and well researched plot into the tanning process author Robin Blake delivers a plot filled with intrigue, suspense and surprises from the very first page until you find out the startling ending.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine