The previous books in this series have all featured Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard after he returned from serving in the trenches of World War I. He returned shell-shocked and haunted by the spirit of Hamish MacLeod, a young Highlander under his command whom he had condemned to be shot for insubordination and failure to follow an order on the battlefield. He has struggled mightily with his demons in all of those books.
A Fine Summer's Day, however, is a prequel to all those events. The time is the summer of 1914. Inspector Ian Rutledge is dedicated to his career as a policeman; he feels a calling to serve in that way.
His personal life, although not without challenges, is going well. He is in love with Jean Gordon, daughter of Major George Gordon and, on one fine summer's day, he asks her to marry him. The answer is "yes" and Jean and her mother start planning for a Christmastime wedding.
Meanwhile, in the North, a young Scotsman named Hamish MacLeod has also asked his sweetheart to marry him and has received an affirmative answer.
Interestingly, we learn that Rutledge's sister and his friends have serious reservations about his engagement to Jean, finding her a bit shallow and naive and perhaps an unworthy companion for their brother and friend. As those who have read the books that cover the later period will know, they are quite prescient in their concerns.
In the middle of all these changes to personal lives, we learn that Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his pregnant wife have been assassinated in Sarajevo. As a result, tensions between various countries threaten to boil over. War seems imminent.
But Inspector Ian Rutledge continues with his day job. He is called on to investigate a murder involving laudanum. Then he learns of another similar case in the area. And then another. Rutledge is convinced that all the deaths are connected and are the work of a single murderer. He searches for the thing that all of these seemingly unrelated men could possibly have in common. An inspiration leads him to the answer. Then a fourth man is killed.
Rutledge tries to convince his boss, Superintendent Bowles, of his theory, but the man proves just as obtuse and unimaginative in 1914 as he was in later years and his jealousy of Rutledge will not allow him to accept the possibility that he might be right. Rutledge must work clandestinely to solve the murders.
As he struggles to find the murderer and save lives, his fiancee, in her naivety, is pushing him to enlist in the military. She doesn't want him to be thought to be a coward. All the young men in her circle are eager to enlist, convinced that any conflict will be over before Christmas and they'll all be home in time for Boxing Day.
Ian resists the idea of enlisting, believing he can do more good as a policeman, but as the conflict heats up, Belgium falls, and the British Expeditionary Force suffers severe losses, he, too, feels the need to join up and do his part.
This is a well-researched novel that offers a unique historical perspective on the causes and the beginning of what would later be called the Great War. Moreover, it offers the reader a view of the strict class differences that prevailed in that period. Overall, it was an engrossing story, well-told.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars