When an unidentified body is discovered in the harbour town of Axmouth, twenty miles from Exeter, Sir John de Wolfe, the county coroner is called to investigate. The manner of the young man's death is a matter of some dispute - but, as Sir John soon discovers, it was no accident. The victim did not drown, as the manor reeve alleges, but was strangled to death.
In the ensuing murder investigation, Sir John is frustrated by what appears to be a conspiracy of silence among the seamen and townsfolk. Just what is the local population trying to hide?
As Crowner John is to learn, there are those who would go to any length to ensure the shocking truth remains hidden. And the coroner must draw on all his resources of courage, cunning and determination if he is to escape from Axmouth with his life.