Skin and Bone (Cragg & Fidelis)
by Robin Blake
Cover Artist: Burning Paper by Shutterstock;
Ethching by Mary Evans Picture Library / Alamy.
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250100962
Date: 25 October 2016 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
Robin Blake's Skin and Bone is a highly engrossing installment in the Titus Cragg and Dr. Luke Fidelis mystery series. It begins with the gruesome discovery of a dead human baby inside a pit of animal urine and feces. This is extremely vile. The responsible fiend has no respect for human life. I was tremendously appalled as were the citizens of Preston. Unfortunately, their search for justice leads them to also perform despicable acts. An innocent woman is beaten and must flee her home. An innocent man is imprisoned inside a jail cell that has flooded with water. Because the peasants of Preston were quick to judge and condemn, I constantly feared someone innocent would be hanged for crimes committed by a cruel, devious villain.
It is very heart-wrenching that someone would dispose of their baby inside a tan-pit when there are good people like Cragg and his lovely wife Elizabeth who are still striving and praying for a baby of their own. Cragg himself is falsely accused of committing a lewd crime and is punished. Soon, he finds himself a pariah, scorned by wealthy society. It is ironic that Cragg should be persecuted for a crime he didn't commit while a fiend is left unpunished. Though he is not a deeply religious man, Cragg does have faith he will be exonerated. Fortunately, he has his faithful friend, Dr. Fidelis, to help him.
I am very prolife. I don't believe in animal cruelty or the killing of unborn babies. The cock fights are cruel and appalling. I was disappointed to learn that Cragg and Dr. Fidelis are participating in them in different capacities. Dr. Fidelis was given a cock, the Sultan of Scrafton, as settlement for a gambling debt; Cragg provides him with emotional support. Cragg, like me, is uncomfortable with the violence. However, looking around, he begins to believe that the fights are good for bringing together men from various walks of life; rich and poor mingle together. A thirst for shed blood is not a virtuous reason for coming together. Furthermore, men are gambling at the cock fights.
Historical mysteries have convinced me that human life on this planet has always been difficult. In 1743, not only is there cruelty towards animals (i.e., the cock fights) but there is much cruelty towards humans; the abuse of impoverished citizens, such as the tanners, is prevalent. Worst of all, there is abuse towards children; the villain in this novel is a disgusting pedophile. However, I am thankful for the modern medicine that I enjoy partaking of in the twenty-first century. Dr. Luke Fidelis employs innovative, albeit controversial, techniques while his associate, Dr. Basilius Harrod, still relies on antiquated practices that border on quackery.
Robin Blake's Skin and Bone is one of my favorite installments in this unique series. It contains an abundance of tantalizing drama, especially in regards to having a baby out of wedlock. There were a few times that I laughed aloud in shocking disbelief at the vile language that citizens directed towards one young woman who was suspected of giving birth to the dead baby found inside the tan-pit. With his descriptions of customs, clothing, architecture, etc., Blake makes his readers feel they are visiting England in 1743.
Cragg conveys this bizarre tale from his point of view--a tale involving devious merchants and the expulsion of laborers from their land. Don't expect a high body count in this novel, but there are many twists and surprises. The plot's focus is on finding the perverted villain responsible for brutally slaying a newborn. Furthermore, the novel's delightful ending will leave fans craving another installment.