My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I found this ninth in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series a bit of rough going. It was hard to work up much interest in the plot or in the main characters. The whole premise of the story just seemed rather unbelievable.
As always, the plot is tied to the experiences of World War I. In this instance, the connection is through a man with whom Ian Rutledge had served in the war, a man who returned from the war to find the woman that he had been in love with now married to another older, richer man of a higher social class. When that man is severely beaten and left for dead, suspicion falls upon Rutledge's former comrade in arms.
When the police go to question the man, he goes a bit off the tracks and runs over the constable's foot with his car as he makes his escape. Instead of leaving the area, he makes his way to the house of the victim where, in a strange encounter with the man's wife, she gives him her husband's gun and essentially invites him to hold her and the housekeeper hostage!
When the police inevitably come calling, he tells them that he will not talk to anyone except Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard. Rutledge is involved in investigating another case at the time and is very reluctant to head out to the hinterlands to deal with this new crime, but his superiors do not give him a choice in the matter. He's instructed to go and sort it out.
As he goes, he is still accompanied by the presence of Hamish, the Scottish soldier whom he executed during the war for refusing to obey a command. Hamish is an ever-present reminder of the horrors of war, but his contribution to this story seems subdued at best.
After Rutledge arrives on the scene, things seem to go from bad to worse. The suspect, the grieving wife, and the housekeeper are still holed up in the house with the suspect brandishing his revolver. Soon another body is added to the death toll as the housekeeper is smothered in her bed. Then the victim, who had apparently been in a coma at the local doctor's surgery, mysteriously disappears. Did he leave on his own or was he spirited away?
In the contretemps caused by the missing patient, it isn't noticed at first that the doctor's wife has been bludgeoned to death, her body left behind a desk. So, the tally becomes three dead bodies and one missing, either dead or alive, body.
At this point, the tale seemed to be descending into parody. I could not work up any empathy or interest in the two main characters, the wife and the suspect. They both seemed utterly unsympathetic and undeserving of my time. I really didn't care what happened to either of them.
The list of possible suspects, once we had pretty well established that the man in the house was not guilty, was long and scattered. Moreover, the denouement, when it came, was particularly unsatisfying and didn't really wrap things up for me. Too many loose ends were left hanging.
In a long series like this, there are bound to be times when the writer(s) is/are not at his/their best. The mother and son duo that make up "Charles Todd" have maintained a high standard of quality and this book didn't meet that standard. It was not terrible and there were bits that were entertaining, but, overall, it certainly was not one of their best.
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