The year is 1744 and an epidemic threatens. Lancashire Coroner Titus Cragg repairs to a remote rural backwater, but life here is far from quiet as he and his friend Dr Luke Fidelis probe the death of a woman, victim to a cruel community punishment, and the subsequent disappearance of the squire’s wife. Robin Blake’s latest is a twisty tale of dark secrets, vicious lies and strange surprises.
We’re thrilled to see the return of Cragg and Fidelis in ROUGH MUSIC, an enthralling new addition to the critically acclaimed series. The extract below is from chapter 13, where Cragg compares the responsibilities of a coroner to those of an author, and comes face to face with the villagers . . .
In theory a coroner conducting an inquest has the responsibilities of the author of a novel – or that’s how I see it. He alone views every person’s face, and notes everything that happens, while the people he observes – audience, jury and witnesses – are turned all towards him. Like the author’s characters, they see just what he permits them to see and know what he thinks it proper for them to know. But, I say, in theory. In practice it does not always come out like that. An author can exercise complete control over proceedings in hand but the coroner is at the mercy of time and chance, and of human whimsy. The likelihood that he may lose control much increases when the witnesses and the jury are strangers to him, and he to them.
I looked around the Chamber Major. The villagers were arrayed before me in their stuff-gowns, spit-boots and patched buffin coats. Their mouths hung open in bovine fascination, most showing toothless and diseased gums, and yellowish mottled tongues, and I felt a sudden surge of disgust. What had they to do with me or I with them? We belonged to different to worlds that could never truly connect, however much we call across the void that separates us. Their speech could sound to my urban ears as the grunting of pigs, while I sometimes thought the things I had to say might as well (in their ears) be spoken in Hebrew.
ROUGH MUSIC is out now in the UK and from 1 April in the US. Read more here.