Apothecary John Rawlings has been summoned to Devon by Elizabeth di Lorenzi, his beautiful but unpredictable mistress. Leaving his young daughter Rose in the good care of her grandfather Sir Gabriel Kent, Rawlings sets off for Exeter on board the stagecoach. His fellow-passengers are a motley crew, and incelude a large and talkative German lady; Cuthbert Simms, a dance-master; and Jack Beef, the so-called "Black Pyramid", a bare-knuckle fighter.
Before the journey's end a man has been found brutally murdered at the Half Moon Inn, and Rawlings is once again drawn, somewhat reluctantly, into a complex and dangerous intrigue.
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