'We must prise opinion from fact, belief from supposition and guesswork from whatever evidence must exist...'
It is surely a simple case of hysteria. Four young women allegedly witness a terrifying apparition while walking in the woods. Has the devil really revealed himself to them? Are they genuine victims of demonic possession? Or, as most suspect, is their purpose in claiming all of this considerably more prosaic?
The eyes of the country turn to a small Nottinghamshire town, where an inquiry is to be held. Everyone there is living through hard, uncertain times. The king is recently dead. It is a new century - a new world looking to the future. But here, in the ancient heart of England, an old beast stirs...
Four men must examine the substance of the girls' tales and decide their fate: a minister, a doctor, a magistrate, and Merritt, an investigator - a seemingly perfect blend of the rational, the sacred and the judicial. And yet, as the feverish excitement all around them grows ever more widespread and infectious, there is both doubt and conflict among the members of this panel.
The Devil's Beat explores the unforeseeable and unstoppable outcome of this inquiry during an alarming and unsettling time, when the whole of that small world seems in turmoil as, one after another, hitherto dependable natural checks and balances, beliefs and superstitions are challenged and then shattered.