A superb psychological thriller in which present-day murder has its roots in the eighteenth century and the mutiny on the Bounty. When torrential summer rains uncover a bizarrely tattooed body on a Lake District hillside, old wives’ tales also come swirling to the surface. For centuries Lakelanders have whispered that Fletcher Christian staged the massacre on Pitcairn so that he could return home. And there he told his story to an old friend and schoolmate, William Wordsworth, who turned it into a long narrative poem – a poem that remained hidden lest it expose Wordsworth to the gallows for harbouring a fugitive. Wordsworth specialist Jane Gresham, herself a native of the Lake District, feels compelled to discover once and for all whether the manuscript ever existed – and whether it still exists today. But as she pursues each new lead, death follows hard on her heels. Suddenly Jane is at the heart of a 200-year-old mystery that still has the power to put lives on the line. Against the dramatic backdrop of England’s Lake District a drama of life and death plays out, its ultimate prize a bounty worth millions.
All landscapes hold their own secrets. Layer on layer, the past is buried beneath the surface. Seldom irretrievable, it lurks, waiting for human agency or meteorological accident to force the skeleton up through flesh and skin back into the present. Like the poor, the past is always with us.
That summer, it rained as if England had been transported to the tropics. Water fell in torrents, wrecking glorious gardens, turning meadows into quagmires where livestock struggled hock-deep in mud. Rivers burst their banks, their suddenly released waters finding their own level by demolishing whatever was vulnerable in their path. In the flooded streets of one previously picturesque village, cars were swept up like toys and deposited in the harbour, choking it in a chaos of mangled metal. Landslips swamped cars with mud and farmers mourned lost crops.
No part of the country was immune from the sheets of stinging rain. City and countryside alike struggled under the weight of water. In the Lake District, it sheeted down over fell and dale, subtly altering the contours of a centuries-old landscape. The water levels in the lakes reached record summer highs; the only discernible benefit was that when the sun did occasionally shine, it revealed a lusher green than usual.
Above the village of Fellhead on the shores of Langmere, ancient peat hags were carved into new shapes under the onslaught of water. And as autumn crept in, gradually the earth gave up one of its close-held secrets.
From a distance, it looked like a scrunched-up tarpaulin stained brown by the brackish water of the bog. At first glance, it seemed insignificant; another piece of discarded rubbish that had worked its way to the surface. But closer inspection revealed something far more chilling. Something that would reach across the centuries and bring even more profound changes in its wake than the weather.