The American adventurer Jonathan Blair has been chased by scandal out of West Africa to the stranger land of Victorian England. Gin-soaked and shaking from malaria, he must travel to Wigan, a town in the darkest part of England, to solve the mysterious disappearance of a young cleric. Nineteenth-century Wigan is two worlds. On the surface it is a serene baize-green land of the moneyed. But in the pits that reach a mile below the surface lurks a separate world where coal miners eke out their short, violent lives covered in black dust. And while the world on the surface may have fine ladies, the world of miners has pit girls, the social and sexual scandal of the country. The missing cleric, John Maypole, has crossed the line. He was engaged to Charlotte, the daughter of the bishop who owns the mine. But Charlotte is as cold as ice, and Maypole seems to have had a fatal encounter with the opposite sort of woman, an earthy, unforgettable pit girl - Rose. Maypole vanished the same day that seventy-six men died in an explosion and firedamp in the bishop's mine. Blair finds himself involved with the workers who make the bishop rich, miners whose existence is marked by brutal labor and blood sports, and pit girls notorious even in London - and with his own shadowy origins.