My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It's 1920 and World War I is now well in the rear-view mirror, but Inspector Ian Rutledge is still suffering some of the effects of shell-shock (as PTSD was called in those days). He's getting stronger though, and it was refreshing in this 14th entry in Charles Todd's series to find him much closer to normal and able to function at a higher level than he has previously.
He is still haunted by the voice of Hamish, the young Scots soldier under his command that he had had to execute for failure to obey orders on the battlefield. But Hamish seems a somewhat more benevolent spirit at this point. Perhaps he is beginning to meld into Rutledge's own personality and become simply the voice of his conscience.
This story begins with a man walking into Scotland Yard and confessing to the murder of his cousin five years earlier, but it is a murder that has never been reported and there is reason to suspect that it may not really have happened. The man who makes the confession is dying of cancer and is taking morphine as a pain killer. Rutledge suspects that his mind may be affected by his medication, but the man insists that he wants to clear his conscience before dying.
Although Rutledge can find no record of a murder or an unclaimed body that could be the victim of the crime the man has confessed to, he is intrigued by the story and decides to take a road trip with his sister to the village in Essex where the confessed murderer grew up and where the "murder" may have occurred. There, he finds a very insular, unfriendly village that seems intent on discouraging visitors or newcomers. It seems apparent that the people there are desperately trying to hide some secret. But what? And does it have anything to do with the so-called murder? Rutledge can find no evidence and no reason to actually believe the confession he has been given.
Then, less than two weeks later, the alleged killer's body is found floating in the Thames, a bullet wound to the back of his head, a woman's locket around his neck. Rutledge learns to his dismay that the man had given him a false name. He is really someone else entirely, but he does have connections to the man whose name he had used.
Rutledge's investigation takes him back to that unwelcoming village and he begins uncovering some of the shameful secrets which the villagers have tried to keep. In doing so he discovers a long pattern of violence and multiple unsolved disappearances and murders which may have some connection to the latest killing.
We walk with the good inspector as he follows the evidence which often seems to twist and turn back upon itself. It's a complicated plot, and at some point in reading it, I put all of the characters in a line-up in my mind and said who is the most unlikely to be the culprit? And sure enough, it turned out to be him! Maybe I'm catching on to Charles Todd's tricks.
Inspector Rutledge still moons a bit over his lost love and the reader wonders whether Todd will ever actually give him a significant love interest. Moreover, back at the office, Rutledge's nemesis Superintendent Bowles ("Old Bowels" to his subordinates) has suffered a heart attack and is in hospital and things are much calmer and running smoothly in his absence. It appears that we may get a new superintendent. Perhaps one who is not prejudiced against our troubled inspector and who will finally give him the credit that he deserves..
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