Author David Pirie sets his latest gothic drama in 1883 with his hero Arthur Conan Doyle held captive in an isolated cottage just outside of Salisbury by his former friend, the sadistically vile Thomas Neill Cream.
Drugged, weakened, and forced to eat food and drink water tainted with laudanum, Arthur is slipping in and out of consciousness. Knowing that Cream will eventually kill him, each moment becomes a daily battle for survival in a world of speedily diminishing options.
Cream has sworn to avenge himself, manifesting a terrible grudge that has grown over the years, culminating in Doyle's imprisonment. Managing to escape though a damaged window, Doyle flees through the woods and, relying on the kindness of a stranger, is able to return to Edinburgh where he reconnects with his tutor and guide, Professor Joseph Bell.
Emboldened by Cream's rancor, Bell and Doyle are swept up by a series of clues which take them Dunwich, a windswept town on the east coast of England that once sank into the sea and where on a stormy night you can hear the sound of the old town's bells ringing out under the ocean.
Bell is galvanized by the knowledge that they have successfully traced Cream this far, and he knows that the scent of him is just too strong in Dunwich to be anywhere else. He's also positive that Cream is somehow connected to the disappearance of Oliver Jefford, a wealthy rake and a known habitué of London's low life.
Oliver Jefford is exactly the type Cream would be likely to encounter in the course of his own pursuits, as Bell knows that the murderer is frustrated in his attempts to find money and Jefford, being outwardly affluent and prosperous, is the perfect foil for this evil psychopath.
While Charlotte, Oliver's sister, arrives in Dunwich anxiously searching for her lost brother, local doctor James Bulweather leads the current investigation, even though it is fast becoming obvious to Bell that the good doctor is not what he seems, especially when it surfaces that Bulweather is
engaged in shady dealings with the bureaucratic head of the local insane asylum.
As the body count increases with two, probably three, people already dead, Doyle and Bell begin to feel that Cream has brought on Dunwich a feeling distrust and suspicion, leading them to suppose that almost anyone could be Cream's accomplice, even the village constable.
Steeping his tale in the Victorian gothic and opulently atmospheric, author David Pirie casts a unique and menacing spell where poisonings, beheadings, drownings, and even a fiery death take
place amid a dark, wintry, rain-soaked landscape of secret rooms, desolate cliffs, sinister sanatoriums and crumbling-down abandoned churches.
As Bell and Doyle's search is propelled forward, both are sure Cream is always there, constantly manipulating events behind the scenes. Humiliation, death, and the constant search for money are Cream's only objectives as he watches and learns, feeding off the underhanded malevolence and the kindly naivety of the poor townsfolk of Dunwich.