A bizarre beating death compels the Derbyshire CID team to investigate a village’s custom of turning the Devil’s Stone. When another attack occurs the villagers begin to believe the devil himself is involved. Especially when one of the villagers claims the devil talked to him and wants him to come to the churchyard. But is this just an act to divert suspicion from himself, or does devilry really exist in the village?
Chapter 1 excerpt
They hung witches some time back, during the superstition-swathed years of the early 1600s. Up around Bakewell and farther north into Scotland. Hung evildoers on gibbets, their bodies chained to the pole, as if afraid they would escape even in death. Hung up at wastelands and village outskirts and crossroads. A tacit message ⎯ ‘Traveler, shun the road to ruin.’ Creaking corpses swaying in the wind, as though they had become a wagging, cautionary finger. Hung out in rain and snow and baking sun, crow-pecked and mid-day silhouetted like a black sun in an eclipse. Hung around the scenes of their crimes, viewable day in and day out, loitering throughout a slow-grinding year. Eerie shapes slowly materializing like specters through fog-choked dawns and black-as-hell nights.
Witches ⎯ practitioners of black magic, partnered with the devil. Possessing the ability to conjure and enchant, to ruin crops, sicken livestock, take human life ⎯ all manner of mischief to beleaguer the Living. And before we had finished this case, I would swear we were plagued with a newer form of the old devilry.
The devilry manifested itself as a monstrous boulder and murder ⎯ both at the foot of a holy place. This hallowed spot was the churchyard of St. Michael’s Church, a late medieval edifice of gray stone squatting near the zenith of a heavily wooded hill. The building shone eerily against the blackness of the March evening, seeming to float above the dark clusters of shrubs and winter-dead flowers hugging its foundation. Moonlight broke sporadically through the ebony jumble of clouds, flooding selected earthly objects with a silvery iridescence. So intense was this contrast of darkness and light that police work lamps might have illuminated the scene. Then, as quickly as the light had identified the church, it shifted, abandoning the massive structure to the unease of encroaching shadows. Fading into the darkness and the dense wood beyond were the bell tower and its menagerie of gargoyles, centuries-old, stanch affirming icons amid Doubt. Below and to the left of the tower the graveyard’s tombstones poked through the inky curtain of night, emphasizing this bizarre yet suitable spot for a death, mutely advertising previous travelers on life’s journey and tonight’s rude betrayal of the Holy....