Deception, murder and land wars thwart Dr. Thomas Silkstone’s latest attempt to find happiness with his beloved Lydia.
For hundreds of years, the villagers of Brandwick have enjoyed common land that Sir Montagu Malthus, the caretaker of Boughton Estate in Oxfordshire, is threatening to enclose. When his surveyor, Jeffrey Turgoose, is shot to death and Turgoose’s young assistant badly injured, it’s easy for Malthus to blame the angry villagers. Turgoose’s friend, the coroner of Oxford, calls in Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a Philadelphia anatomist who doesn’t rely on unwarranted assumptions. But Malthus is highly displeased with Silkstone’s findings, including a clue based on a thriving moonshine operation. The American doctor has a history of discord with Malthus, who's even more powerful now that he has total control over the young heir of Boughton and the boy’s mother, Lady Lydia Farrell, is conveniently committed to Bethlem Hospital. After being turned away several times, Silkstone is finally able to visit Lydia at the institution commonly called Bedlam, where he’s horrified to find the pretty young widow he’s been courting pallid as a ghost. Worse yet, Malthus has turned Lydia against Silkstone as part of a complex plot to seize control of more than just the Boughton Estate. Silkstone’s attempts to fight back bring him into closer sympathy with the villagers and help unmask a mysterious highwayman. But even with justice, love and forensic science on Silkstone’s side, his dreams of reunion with his Lydia—and the reader’s hopes of resolution—seem dimmer than ever.
The opening of Harris’ (The Lazarus Curse, 2014, etc.) latest 18th-century romantic mystery nearly bogs down in back story. Once it gains momentum, however, one disaster relentlessly follows another for the lovelorn doctor from the Colonies.