Set in 1780, the novel begins when Gabriel Crowther, a local scientist and recluse, receives a visit from Harriet Westerman after she has discovered a body on her morning walk. Due to an article Crowther had written about forensics that Harriet happened to read, she feels he might be useful in helping discover the reason behind the death before the local law sweeps it under the carpet. The novel goes back and forth between the country setting of West Sussex and a family in London, whose connection to West Sussex quickly becomes obvious.
Suspicions of the murder fall on the inhabitants of Thornleigh Hall, a place that seems to have a dark past. Hugh, the current heir (only because the oldest son has disappeared), at one point was interested in Harriet's younger sister, but after an initial courtship he took to drink and moodiness. In addition to flashing between locations, the novel also goes back five years in the past when Hugh served in the colonies fighting in the beginnings of the rebellion.
The murderer was fairly obvious early on in the novel, but I liked the large cast of characters that Robertson used. None of them were exactly very original or even that well developed, but there was something about the novel that was rather endearing to me. The author also did a good job of moving the plot forward (I still think of A Beautiful Blue Death when I read mysteries set in earlier time periods - the author was so concerned with developing the detective's quirks that the murder mystery took second place to tea and scones - definitely not something I'd recommend). I'd recommend this to someone who is a mystery junkie and really enjoys historical fiction, but might be too simple a mystery or too superficial for a reader that is only one of the two.