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When the peat-cutters came to report the dead man, Gil Cunningham was up in the roof-space of his mother's house, teaching his new young wife swordplay.
They believe the corpse to be that of a local missing man. His wife and the widow who runs the local coalmine are sure the body belongs to someone else, but then they find themselves accused of having killed him by witchcraft.
And if the corpse is not the missing man, who is it?
Gil and Alys try to get to the heart of the matter. Together they uncover more murders than they bargain for, and encounter the chilling secret at the heart of the mystery.
McIntosh's fifth medieval whodunit to feature Archbishop's Quaestor (constable) Gil Cunningham (after 2007's St. Mungo's Robin) may frustrate some mystery fans because whether a conventional crime has been committed is unclear for a long time. When a corpse turns up in a peat bog, its skull crushed and throat slit, in Beltane parish outside Glasgow, no one has a clue how long the remains have been buried. The parish chaplain blames village healer Beatrice "Beattie" Lithgo and demands her arrest based on his obsessive reading of a tome on witchcraft. Gil and his new bride, Alys Mason, try to identify the body and clear Beattie's name, traveling from haunted coal mines to the coast, where they interview "salt boilers" who may have known the victim, rumored to be decadent fee collector Thomas Murray. More cadavers spark lurid allegations about Murray's relationship with a young collier (coal miner) and other missing men. An unconvincing confession briefly distracts Gil and Alys from the case's shocking resolution. U.S. readers should be prepared for plenty of Scottish brogue ("I wouldny ken about that").