It is the winter of 1537, and England is divided into those faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to the king and the newly established Church of England. Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIIIs feared vicar general, crusades against the old Church with savage new laws, rigged trials, and a vast network of informers. Queen Anne Boleyn has been beheaded and the monasteries are being dissolved - their treasures pillaged and their lands eyed greedily by courtiers and country gentry.
But having put down one peoples rebellion, Cromwell is afraid another might topple the realm. So when one of his commissioners is murdered in the monastery at Scarnsea on the south coast of England, he enlists his fellow reformer, Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer renowned as the sharpest hunchback in the courts of England, to head the inquiry. When Shardlake and his young clerk and protege, Mark Poer, arrive at Scarnsea, the two uncover evidence of sexual misconduct, embezzlement, and treason.
And when two other murders are revealed, Shardlake must act quickly to prevent the killer from murdering again.