Dark Waters

Written by Robin Blake
Review by Richard Bourgeois

A drunk found drowned in the salmon traps is not such a rare thing in Preston, England in 1741. Coroner Titus Cragg convenes a routine inquest, signs the jury’s verdict of accidental death, and returns his attention to the truly remarkable—Preston’s first contested election to Parliament in a generation. But no sooner is the body released for burial when new evidence, brought by Cragg’s good friend Dr. Fidelis, points to murder. Cragg reopens the grave, and the case. Before long a second man is dead, a Tory tally-captain like the first. Could the murders be connected? Cragg and Fidelis must uncover the conspiracy, even as Whigs and Tories gather to vote—and brawl—the week before the election.

As a detecting duo, Cragg and Fidelis are refreshingly unique. Neither man plays Watson to the other’s Holmes; rather each approaches the forensic problem with equal competence from his own perspective. Cragg, the lawyer, interviews witnesses and puzzles out motives while Dr. Fidelis solves matters of physiology and chemistry. The time period is an interesting one and underserved in fiction, just on the cusp of scientific enlightenment in Europe. Recommended.