Exeter, 1195: At a local jousting day, there's a serious altercation between Hugh Peverel, lord of Sampford Peverel, near Tiverton, and a stranger by the name of Reginald de Charterai. Two days later, Hugh's body is found in a barn, stabbed in the back. Is de Charterai to blame? The county coroner, Sir John de Wolfe, soon finds plenty of other suspects for the killing of the almost universally hated Hugh Peverel. All three of his brothers had a motive: two for the succession and the third to steal Hugh's attractive young wife, Beatrice. It's no secret that Beatrice herself detested her adulterous husband, as did his mother-in-law, Adelina. Another suspect is Godwin Thatcher, a Saxon villager whose two sons were hanged some months earlier, being arbitrarily sentenced by Hugh at his manorial court. Then there's the manor reeve, Warin Fishacre, who harboured a deep grudge against his master for taking the virginity of his daughter, Maud, just before her marriage. With so many suspects to choose from, Sir John is confronted with one of the most difficult cases of his distinguished career.