My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The action in this fifth entry in Charles Todd's Inspector Ian Rutledge series begins only a few weeks after the end of the last, which left Rutledge seriously injured and lying bleeding from a gunshot wound to the chest. Rutledge has recovered enough to return to work but is not yet able to resume his full duties.
When a Catholic bishop contacts Scotland Yard and asks them to oversee the investigation of the murder of a priest in the little village of Osterley, it seems an ideal assignment for the inspector. All he has to do is consult with the local police and make sure a full and appropriate investigation of the crime has taken place. But the reader knows well from the previous four books that the role of overseer is not one that Rutledge can easily fill - especially when he suspects that a miscarriage of justice is taking place.
He arrives in Osterley to find that the police have arrested Matthew Walsh, an outsider, for the murder. The motive was supposedly theft, as a few pounds were taken from the priest's office where he was killed. But as Rutledge observes and talks to people, he becomes convinced that the truth is a lot more complicated.
Not long before his murder, the priest had been called to the bedside of a dying man, Herbert Baker, a former chauffeur for the richest family in town. Baker was not a member of the priest's congregation, he was not even a Catholic, but he insisted on talking with the priest before he died.
Soon after, Baker was dead and buried. Then the priest was murdered. Rutledge comes to believe that the two events are somehow related.
Inspector Rutledge draws on his years of experience and his well-honed intuition to pursue secrets that the local authorities would prefer not to see explored. They don't want to consider the possibility that there might be a member of their tightly knit community who would commit such a horrendous crime as the murder of a priest. But Rutledge soon learns that the priest was not universally loved and there were those who held grudges against him that had little to do with God or the Church.
As Rutledge pursues his investigation, he continues to be haunted by the voice of Hamish MacLeod, a soldier he was forced to have executed for refusal to obey an order during the recently concluded World War I. MacLeod is by turns his partner and helpmate in the investigation and a hectoring, taunting voice that he can never silence.
Todd writes movingly of the plight of soldiers now home from the war and trying to find their place in society. He weaves this theme into each of these mysteries and it is one of the things which give the stories a verisimilitude that they might not otherwise have. One empathizes deeply with the shell-shocked Rutledge and with the other veterans he encounters in his investigations. And one can see that the struggles of such former soldiers to again blend in with life in their communities and to resume a normal existence has not changed much in a hundred years. Indeed, it has probably ever been thus. And, unfortunately, ever will be.
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