The small, insular village of Bridgestead is stunned by the senseless disappearance of local mill owner Joshua Braithwaite. Joshua vanished back in 1916, at the height of the
Great War, just one month after his son Edmund was killed in the Somme. Tabitha, Joshua’s daughter has never breathed a word about her own personal anxieties over her loss, but she’s about to marry Hector, a man several years younger, and she has a picture in her mind of her father walking her down the
aisle. A member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment in the War, Tabitha decides to find her father by enlisting the help of her ex-colleague Kate Shackleton.
A skilled detective and keen amateur photographer--and also a war widow of some charm--Kate has a unique combination of kindly humor and blunt honesty. But try as she might, Kate
has never been able to find an eyewitness to her husband, Gerald’s, last moments on the battlefield or to discover the circumstances of his death. After Gerard went missing, Kate undertook investigations of other women.
Through the ashes of war’s aftermath, she finds herself drawn ever deeper into sleuthing: “Where I failed for myself, I succeeded for others.”
Kate’s housekeeper, Mrs. Sugden, tells of her memories of the case: the Braithwaite mill around the time of the tragic explosion of Low Moor, and how Joshua Braithwaite was dragged from the Bridgestead beck by a group of boy scouts. She also recalls the talk of a prosecution of attempted suicide and how Braithwaite disappeared into thin air. Tabatha’s mother, Evelyn, is convinced her husband is dead, even though Kate senses a feeling of shame attached to the situation.
The enormity of the task at hand makes Kate’s knees go weak. On the advice of her father, a Leeds police superintendent, she teams up with an ex-policeman who proves to be both Kate’s nemesis and her savior. But even simple facts can be baffling and mysterious. The astrological cards of local woman Lizzie Kellet
are a harbinger of violence and murder, while Evelyn tells Kate that Joshua
drove her lovely son into the army and ultimately paid the price.
Questions of life and death seem part of a larger pattern even as the action of the novel is delivered mostly in the form of Kate’s interviews with various suspects. Unsettling images of two murders
carry an added resonance in this country setting, given the period's growing interest in the consciousness and welfare rights of the working class. Brody depicts the Yorkshire landscapes with ease: the gruff, poverty-ridden mill workers; the wealthy land owners
who have lived off the fruits of exploitation for decades; and the endemic conditions of the Braithwaite wool mill, the noise and smells of the dye house overriding a sense of what the process can wreak.
From allegations of profiteering against Paul Kellet, who had some kind of grudge towards Braithwaite--and who in turn was probably picking up the profits from the invention of a lightweight loom picker--Brody’s lively
(and long) tale often resembles a Thomas Hardy tragedy: “the fall of a local notable whose fault was not in his stars but in himself.”