Skin and Bone
Summary of Skin and Bone
“It was a day on which the sun was a disc of polished brass, and flocks of white cloud chased each other cheerfully across a blue field of sky.” So begins the fourth tale featuring Coroner Titus Cragg and his friend Dr Luke Fidelis, which is set, like the others, in Preston, Lancashire. Very soon the atmosphere darkens and Cragg is plunged into the mystery of a dead baby and the multiple political and personal machinations around it.
The year is 1743 and the tanners of Preston are a pariah community, plying their unwholesome trade on the western edge of town. Nearby is the stretch of riverside marsh where many Prestonians by ancient right graze their livestock. When the body of a new-born child is found in one of the tan-pits, Cragg’s enquiry falls foul of a cabal of merchants, dead set on modernizing the town’s economy and regarding the despised tanners – and Cragg’s apparent championship of them – as obstacles to their plan. First the inquest into the baby’s death is attacked by an arsonist; then Cragg himself faces a charge of lewdness, and of being unfit for public office, from which suddenly his whole future as coroner is under threat.
But the plot of the novel has more twists and turns to come, among them the suspicious death of one of the scheming merchants. In this deadly game the advantage passes back and forth between Cragg and his enemies as truth and justice lie in the balance.