Hungry Death (A Cragg and Fidelis Mystery, 8)

Written by Robin Blake
Review by Tom Vallar

Winter of 1747 nears as Coroner Titus Cragg is summoned from his home in Preston to the English village of Warrington, where a farm family has been slaughtered. His friend, physician Luke Fidelis, is already in Warrington as a guest of prominent landowner John Blackburne, invited by a classmate he befriended during his foreign studies. It will take all their wits to solve these six deaths—plus another one unearthed during their visit.

Complicating the investigation is the quasi-religious view held by the late Kidd family, that of the little-known Eatanswillians, who practice free love and believe in the power of curses. Kidd’s surviving brother also proclaims himself a member of the cult, to the point of publishing explanatory pamphlets. The couple who rent the adjoining farm are also Eatanswillians and take a peculiar interest in ensuring Kidd’s farm doesn’t suffer any loss of income in the wake of the tragedy. Then there is the dead body discovered by Blackburne’s gardener beneath his hothouse; following the evidence leads Cragg and Fidelis to discover that the boggy soil preserved enough for them to detect a connection with the current deaths.

Blake’s eighth entry in the series is a tour de force of medical expertise, religious explication, and courtroom drama. He invents the Eatanswillians and develops their entire worldview as a foundation on which to hang his plot and characters. He involves the inventor of a shorthand method to make sense of a key clue. All his characters exude an exquisite sense of time and place. An extremely satisfying mystery.