Coroner William Doughty is a medical man, but not a successful one. He’s been promoted beyond his competence, yet cares about his work, and tries to develop it.
Doctors began an evidence-base for medicine in the 1800s by studying disease through postmortems, and pathology began to inform inquests. In the 1700s, the inquest verdict for a sudden death might well have been ‘Act of God’. A century later the inquest jury would ask why the death had occurred: if the deceased had obtained the right medical treatment, or if they had suffered neglect, or poisoning?
In 1840, Doughty is on the cusp of this change, and as a young and inexperienced Coroner he believes he will get his juries to trust the medical science. A Coroner – ‘the Friend to the Poor’ – was the last recourse for justice in state institutions, especially the workhouse, where the lock-up was unique in that an inmate could be held captive for an undefined length of time without a court order or any external scrutiny.
Doughty’s a romantic, capable of losing his heart and head over a woman, and of pursuing love into disaster. He knows he should act like a gentleman, but his physical instincts tell him otherwise.
Jane Verity abandoned the advantages of an affluent upbringing, seduced by an actor and the promise of a glamorous life in the theatre. She has been ruined by that love affair, has seen her newborn baby die, and is at rock bottom in the workhouse when Doughty encounters her.
Nothing any more can be worse than what she has already been through. From the depths of her despair she must find the courage to speak up for herself and others, to expose the truth about the evil she has witnessed, and to return to what she loves: playing the piano.