In this 1986 winner of England's Historical Novel Prize, the author weaves a brooding tale of an 18th-century Cornish tin-mining town blighted by its inhabitants' brutal emotions and the memory of an appalling tragedy. In 1887, on the outskirts of Windfall, Cornwall, Rev. Ralph Fletcher spots a man digging up a fragment of an iron cage containing a skull. Fletcher devotes the next 10 years to unravelling the mystery of this find; his discoveries form the bulk of the novel: On a cold, rainy night in 1830, Mavis Trerice, a ""bal maiden"" at Windfall's tin mine, comes across two strangers, Welland Halt and his adolescent daughter, Ruth, wandering the streets. Mavis leads them to shelter. The next day, after cautioning Ruth to remain silent about their past, Halt takes work at the mine. For months he endures the hard, dangerous work, and alienates most of the town--particularly the blacksmith, Tom Magor--with his proud manner. Then he discovers copper--a find that makes him rich. Halt builds a house and courts Mavis, but his happiness is shattered when blacksmith Magor takes revenge by raping Ruth. In a bloody match, Halt beats Magor senseless; his fighting spirit so impresses the spectators that he emerges as town hero: the mine's owner proposes a joint business venture; Mavis agrees to marry. Then one night. Halt's previous wife comes to town to join the husband and daughter who had abandoned her. Halt strangles this shrewish woman to keep his precious new life intact. Enraged, the townsfolk chase him through the mine: captured and condemned to die, a defiant Halt forges the iron cage in which he hangs until dead from thirst and exposure. A powerful story featuring a stunning evocation of place and period; marred, however, by a protagonist alternately too noble, and then too ignoble, to be believed.