Skin and Bone

Written by Robin Blake

Review written by Stephen Thornley

An avid reader, Stephen's knowledge of Crime Fiction is fairly extensive, with The Golden Age is his greatest interest.

Skin and Bone
Little Brown
RRP: £7.99
Released: May 5 2016

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.

The 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.

Religion 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.

So 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.

Cragg 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.

There 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.

Cragg 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.

Cragg 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.

There 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.

This 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.


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