My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I am an avid reader of series, especially mystery series, and have read all of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries right up to this number 15 in the cycle, Proof of Guilt. It's been an uneven series, but, on the whole, I have enjoyed it. I find the depiction of the period after World War I and particularly the sensitive treatment of the soldiers who experienced "shell shock," or post traumatic stress disorder, as we would term it, to be very intriguing and generally well done. All that being said, I can only express my extreme disappointment with this entry.
The plot is so confusing and the dizzying number of characters so underdeveloped and uninteresting that it makes trying to come up with a sensible summary of the book virtually impossible. We have missing persons and multiple unidentified corpses. Do the two categories match up? Well, maybe or maybe not. That's one of many things that isn't entirely clear.
At least one of the major missing persons is never accounted for by my reckoning, even though, based on the flimsiest of circumstantial evidence, a man is arrested for his murder, which may or may not have actually occurred. We never find out for sure.
Moreover, in addition to the plot and character problems, the dialogue is just choppy and unrealistic. It doesn't really advance the story. And in this tale, unlike some of the other (better) books, we get very little insight into Inspector Rutledge's inner drama and his ongoing internal conversation with the dead Scottish soldier, Hamish.
Okay. Here's my best effort at a summary.
Rutledge has a new boss, a by-the-numbers man who insists on quick clearance of crimes with the perpetrator arrested. He doesn't seem to care overmuch whether the arrested "perpetrator" is actually guilty of anything.
His boss sends Rutledge to check out a body found dead in the streets, a man who appears to have been struck and dragged by one of those newfangled horseless carriages. The man has no identification on him. The only clue is an expensive and apparently old watch that he was carrying. Rutledge hits nothing but dead ends in trying to identify the man.
He discovers that the man that the watch probably belonged to is missing, but his sister views the body of the dead man and insists that it is not her brother. Then the man's business partner from Madeira, who was supposed to be arriving by ship, also fails to turn up as scheduled and is considered another missing person.
Then there's that household which takes on its staff from men who have been inmates in prison or insane asylums and have been cleared for release, and one of them may have a connection to two of the disappeared men and may have had a grudge against them...
No, no, no! I give up! It's a mess and I refuse to try to describe it any further.
This is simply a poor effort and the only reason that I give it two stars instead of an ignominious one is for old time's sake and in hope that other books in the series might return once again to the bare standard that one expects of a Charles Todd/Inspector Rutledge mystery.
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