A naïve young Englishman learns much about love, life, and death when he travels to British Columbia in 1868.
Chad Hobbes is an Oxford graduate at odds with his father, a vicar deeply disturbed by his son's embrace of Darwin’s theories. For his part, Hobbes’ feelings about women and sex are complicated by his love for his mother, who once had an affair with his father’s curate. Unable to continue his education in jurisprudence without family help, he decides to travel. A letter of introduction to Chief Justice Begbie gets him a job as a constable in Victoria, whose local population is a volatile mixture of British, American, Black, Chinese, and Native American. Hobbes’ first case is the murder of Dr. McCrory, a self-proclaimed alienist, who is found dead and mutilated by visiting Tsimshian Indians. The Tsimshian send a runner to tell the authorities, who arrest Wiladzap, a medicine man. Hobbes, called to investigate, doubts Wiladzap is the killer and sets out to learn more about the victim. Meanwhile, the sexually inexperienced Hobbes falls in love and lust with Wiladzap’s tribeswoman Lukswaas. Hobbes’ one friend from Oxford, Frederick Blundell, who’s reduced to working at an ironmonger’s shop in Victoria, introduces Hobbes to a widow with three attractive daughters. He finds Aemilia, the oldest, appealing but continues to meet with Lukswaas in the woods. At length, Hobbes discovers that the dead man's strange and mostly hidden medical practice involved using magnetism and sexual congress to promote cures, giving a number of people cause to hate him. As Hobbes ponders who’s civilized and who’s savage in a land strange to him, he must plumb his own beliefs to right a potential injustice.
Haldane's first mystery, evocative and elegantly written, is a deeply philosophical look at a relatively unknown historical period.