John James seems to slip into the 18th century a little like Georgette Heyer but his people are hardly of the ton -- for the most part they are rural and mildly bloodthirsty. Ex-Sergeant Robert Folland is mysteriously routed to the shoddy town of Wrackham, where the inhabitants -- marsh dwellers, inbred clannish citizens, merchants of both Hanoverian and Stuart persuasions -- are dominated by Jacob Kettlestang, the ""Mayor,"" a grain trader and sometime banker. As Kettlestang's seemingly indulged factotum, Robert is edged into some peculiar maneuvers involving smuggling, a horse race, a market-place showdown and even a proposed marriage to the beautiful Sophie, although he loves humble Prisca. But most baffling is the question of Robert's origins; he is -- tut and strewth -- a bastard. Robert does discover eventually his identity, and why and by whom he has been put through his paces. Not as lightsome as Seventeen of Leyden (1972) but lathered with atmosphere.