Surgeon Gabriel Taverner finds it difficult to gain the locals' trust as he attempts to reestablish himself as a country physician in rural Devon, England. A series of disturbing incidents convinces him that at least one person does not welcome his presence. Called out to examine a partially decomposed body found beside the river, Gabriel discovers that he has a personal connection to the dead man. Teaming up with Coroner Theophilus Davey to find out how the man died, Gabriel uncovers some darker aspects of the lucrative silk trade which operates from nearby Plymouth. The more he finds out, the more apparent it becomes that the people closest to him have been keeping secrets.