The novel opens with a dramatic scene, the sudden death of the local school master, with consequences that reverberate through the book to the final reveal at its end. It is a story told by two central characters: acting coroner Harry Probert-Lloyd and his assistant, John Davies.
Teacher Nicholas Rowland appears to have fallen from the loft above the schoolroom. It is not a convenient time for acting coroner, Harry Probert-Lloyd, and his assistant, John Davies, as there are public meetings and hustings to elect a permanent coroner. The role is an important regional one, representing authority and influence, and both the main political parties, Tories and Liberals, would like to see their candidate voted in. Although Harry Probert-Lloyd hopes to be elected, he will not allow the distraction of political canvassing divert him from finding the truth, even when the Tories put up a strong opposing candidate, Caldicot, an ex-soldier used to barracking and delivering blistering and heckling rhetoric. Because Harry is soon convinced that something about the death of Nicholas Rowland is more than a simple, tragic accident.
The story structure is based on alternating chapters between the two main characters, which allows commentary on events and on each other’s actions, as well, at times, as moving to different locations to advance the plot. Although divided by class, wealth and privilege, the two work as a team, John providing visual information for Harry who has failing sight; while Harry provides opportunities for social advancement beyond John’s previous wildest dreams.
As the story progresses, there is the mystery of a large sum of money deposited in a chest in the schoolteacher’s very modest quarters. Other secrets come to light - and family divisions. Harry visits the prime suspect in custody, a cousin of one of the two girl apprentice teachers who worked alongside Nicholas Rowland. John meanwhile goes to London following some information about books that the schoolteacher has published; and makes a surprising discovery. Matters become further complicated when connections between the liberal schoolteacher and Caldicot, the Tory candidate, emerge. Exactly how Nicholas Rowland met his death is left ambiguous, but we are given enough clues to fill in the gaps as the story reaches its satisfying conclusion; and one where Harry Probert-Lloyd is also duly elected as permanent coroner.
Those Who Know is published by The Dome Press. This is Alis Hawkins’ third novel in the historical crime series set in nineteenth-century West Wales