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 nights later, Hugh's body is found in a barn, stabbed to death. Is de Charterai the killer? The county coroner, Sir John de Wolfe, soon finds plenty of other suspects for the murder of the 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 does his mother-in-law, Adelina. Another suspect is Godwin Thatcher, a Saxon villager whose two sons were hanged for alleged deer poaching, 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, Sir John is confronted with the most baffling case of his distinguished career.