It is 1763. James Blakiston, overseer of Lord Ravenshead’s estate and a newcomer to the Durham parish of Ryton, is determined to solve the mystery of old Reuben Cooper’s murder – but he has no idea how to go about it.
As enclosure threatens to make the poor even poorer, Blakiston follows one misguided hunch after another. The only thing that he can really be certain of is his love for the beautiful and spirited Kate Greener – a love he is determined to resist, for Kate is the daughter of a penniless labourer and Blakiston has in any case not recovered from being thrown over by the woman he believed loved him.
The mysterious Joseph Kelly, an Irishman who is not an Irishman, falls under suspicion. But Kelly cannot be found. Then Matthew Higson flees to America, leaving his boyhood love Catherine Robinson behind in his headlong rush to be gone, and the mystery is solved. Higson was the murderer.
But when Higson is found, not fled but murdered in his turn, Blakiston’s search resumes. As he builds a picture of the history of the murderous Cooper family over three generations, a missing coat also begins to occupy his mind. How did it get from where it was to where it is? And why?
A chance remark by Lady Isabella Claverley opens the door to the murderer at last. And Blakiston rejects love. But will love let him go?