"Clare has carefully researched the period she is writing about and offers authentic, engaging historical detail, but her real gift is as a superb storyteller whose clever, twisty plots; believable characters; and skillful writing will engross the reader from first page to last"
Booklist Starred Review
” Introducing physician-sleuth Dr Gabriel Taverner in the first of an intriguing series of mysteries set in early 17th century Devon.
1603. Former ship’s surgeon Gabriel Taverner is attempting to re-establish himself as a country physician in rural Devon. But it’s not easy to gain the locals’ trust, and a series of disturbing incidents, increasing in menace and intensity, convinces him that at least one person does not welcome his presence.
Called out to examine a partially decomposed body found beside the river, Gabriel discovers that he has a personal connection to the dead man. Teaming up with Coroner Theophilus Davey to find out how the man died, Gabriel uncovers some darker aspects of the lucrative silk trade which operates from nearby Plymouth. The more he finds out, the more frighteningly apparent it becomes that the people closest to him have been keeping dangerous secrets.
Read an Excerpt
I have very happy memories of Dartmouth. The Falco put in there whenever we were in the region – it was rumoured among the crew that Captain Zeke knew a very accommodating and generous woman nearby – and our many shore runs led to strong ties between the crew and the townsfolk. As if that were not enough, something that happened in August 1592, not long after I’d joined the Falco in the early months of that year, gave the town a lifelong place in my affections.
The Falco was one of a small group of the Queen’s ships selected to sail to the Azores to intercept the Spanish galleons groaning their way home from the New World, laden so heavily that they were low in the water and, of necessity, slow-moving. The first treasure ship we encountered, however, was not Spanish but Portuguese, and her name was the Madre de Deus. After a fierce battle that went on most of the day we took her, and when we boarded we could barely believe our luck, for all of her decks were heaped with bounty. Not only gold and silver were in abundance, but also bags of coins and chests of pearls and precious stones, fine cloth and beautifully worked tapestries, ebony and enough spices to supply a score of apothecaries for a year. It was rumoured that there was also a particular parchment originating in the Portuguese colony of Macau, on the Cathay coast, and the rumour said it provided highly secret and very valuable information on the Portuguese trade with Japan and Cathay. So precious was it that apparently it had been hidden in its own cedar-wood case, wrapped carefully inside a length of fine cloth as if it were a priceless necklace. I can’t vouch for the truth of that rumour, if there is any, for I never saw the document or its case.
We sailed back to Dartmouth in great heart for although nobody had yet made an accurate tally of our haul, we all knew it was extraordinary; someone said what we were bringing home was worth half as much as England’s entire treasury, but I’m sure that was an exaggeration. Anyway, we were full of glee at the thought of the news of our feat reaching the Queen’s ears, for she was said to be fiercely proud of her navy and therefore likely to reward us well.
She didn’t actually get the chance. News of what we were carrying somehow preceded us back to Dartmouth; the more superstitious among the crew maintained that the ghosts of the many Portuguese sailors we’d killed had turned into dolphins and raced ahead with the tidings, while the more practical blamed the pilot who had met us at the river mouth and hurried on ahead. Either way, we had a welcoming committee: merchants, tradesmen, whores, thieves, lads, lasses and honest townsfolk had all turned out, not, as at first we thought, to cheer us home but to push their way aboard and help themselves.
At first we tried to stop them, but very quickly it became apparent that there were just too many of them. I can hear Captain Zeke’s shout even now: ‘Fuck this, lads,’ he yelled, ‘are we going to stand by and see this rabble fill their pockets when we who did all the hard work stand and watch and end up with bugger-all?’
The officers and the ship’s surgeon had to try to set a good example, but the sole effect of that was that we employed a little more discretion than everyone else. I dropped perhaps a dozen solid gold coins inside my boots and slipped a pearl as big as my thumbnail inside my medical bag and when I saw a huge emerald rolling down the deck, dropped from a shopkeeper’s bulging fist, I picked it up and put it in my mouth.
By the time order was restored – and I’ve always suspected nobody was in any great hurry – they reckon that getting on for three-quarters of the treasure had gone.
It was an event that will live long in Dartmouth’s memory. What was purloined that day saw the rise to relative security and comfort of many a household, for to those who have little, the acquisition of even a small amount of wealth makes a big difference. While I don’t like to imagine the Queen’s reaction when told the news – if, that is, anyone was brave enough to tell her – still I can’t help feeling pleased at the outcome.