It's seventeenth century England and the tensions are rising as religions clash and politicians try to overthrow each other. John Brigge is the town coroner and one of its governors. His wife is about to give birth as he is called to examine a baby that has been suffocated. The finger is quickly pointed at a woman found with the child who looks like she may have recently given birth, but there isn't much evidence beyond that to support her guilt. The other governors are quick to want to hang her but John wants more evidence first. Aware of the fact that his wife needs him, he heads home. However the political powers are churning and it doesn't look like Brigge will benefit from what's happening in town.
The book does a good job of portraying life during this time. It's obvious that quite a bit of research was done and the atmosphere of the book was well set. That said, at times I found the author would write out paragraph long descriptions of things that made no difference. The room where the suffocated child was found has such a description, yet the character only stayed there for about a page, meaning the description was about 33% of the time spent talking about that room. What is the point?
The book is set up as a mystery about who killed the child, but mid-way through the book it seems much less relevant to have this question answered. When that mystery is solved, it doesn't matter much to the reader but instead on how all the warring factions will work with each other and where Brigge ends up.
In the end, this book was rather disappointing.
First Line: "When the women found milk in her breasts, and other secret feminine tokens, Scaife, the constable's man, an archdolt, was dispatched across the windswept moors and icy mountains to fetch Mr John Brigge, coroner of the wapentakes of Agbrigg and Morley."