In this twelfth Luke Tremayne adventure of political intrigue, fast action, and multiple murder mysteries, Cromwell’s most ruthless agent has to adjust to life-changing events. His leader, England’s ruler, Oliver Cromwell, is dead, and the army that kept England united and secure is disintegrating. Luke resigns from government service, marries a vivacious widow, takes up a vast estate in North Yorkshire, and is appointed as a magistrate for the area.
On his arrival in Yorkshire, Luke immediately confronts a problem. The steward who was to hand over the manor to him disappears on the eve of his arrival, and in trying to solve this mystery, he becomes obsessed with two cold cases—the murder of a young girl and the destruction of a neighboring hamlet by fire.
These issues are soon overshadowed by a series of murders and more disappearances in which Luke looks for a motive in the intense sectarian violence against Catholics, a possible vendetta against manorial officials, the general criminality and lawlessness of the region, and the flawed personalities of several leading figures.
Luke’s investigation is complicated by the divided nature of the community; a former royalist, now brigand, who controls a criminal network dominating the moors; the threat and eventuality of a royalist conspiracy and uprising; the existence of a pagan cult; and a popular and powerful witch. Luke has to face a bevy of powerful women—some of whom are determined to confront the violence against women and the abuse of children that pervades the dale.
Unexpectedly, Luke receives a letter from the king in exile and, for a short period, is drawn back into high politics as rival generals compete for control of the country and royalists negotiate the reinstatement of monarchy.