Essex, 1595. When Chelmsford farmer John Crookback, his wife, and two of their children are killed and their bodies flung into a well, suspicion, fanned by the accusations of Crookback's grasping daughter Agnes Profytt, swiftly settles on two people powerless to defend themselves: Crookback's surviving son Nicholas, a deaf-mute, and Nicholas's one friend, Adam Nemo, the groom at neighboring Burton Court, whose life on Greenland ended abruptly 20 years ago when Sir Martin Frobisher and his men grabbed him and brought him back to England -- and, courtesy of Crookback, to Essex. Chelmsford clothier Matthew Stock and his wife, Joan (Witness of Bones, 1992, etc.), who can't believe that Nicholas or Adam could act so brutally, take them in during the inquest, but when the two sneak off, they're left without an explanation for their outraged neighbors. While Matthew agrees to head a posse searching for the fugitives -- and eventually catches up with them, triggering a crucial memory of Adam's capture that will allow most readers to put down the book 100 pages early -- Joan gossips with enough townsfolk to reach the same damning conclusion about the reason John Crookback was killed. A muffled outing for Matthew, who spends most of his time uncomfortably holding his tongue in order to avoid antagonizing his neighbors and doesn't quite tumble to the killer's identity even when he gets thrown down a well. Joan does far better, but the story's premise is better suited to a pro forma parable of political correctness (which Tourney supplies) than a mystery.