The thirteenth novel to feature Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard, who returned from fighting in the first World War with more than his fair share of troubles, is a genuinely gripping and atmospheric historical mystery. Rutledge is sent to Eastfield in Sussex where three men have been killed. Local police are baffled by the case and the father of the third victim, a wealthy brewer, has enough clout to ensure Scotland Yard becomes involved. At the same time Rutledge’s boss and mentor retires and tells Rutledge about the one case of an unsolved murder that still haunts him. Pondering this case and its peculiarities occupies Rutledge’s mind and may turn out to help him solve the current case.
I’ve only read one of the earlier novels in this series but I was easily drawn back into the world that the mother and son team who write as Charles Todd have created. Rutledge is a truly compelling and sympathetic character who struggles with his own (quite real) demons as he doggedly investigates the crimes he encounters even when, as happens in A Lonely Death, he is berated by his colleagues who are willing to accept obvious solutions. The voice in his head belongs to Hamish McLeod, the man who Rutledge shot during the war for disobeying an order, and he is a very real, often highly irritating presence in Rutledge’s life. I’m normally not a big fan of ‘woo woo’ elements in a story but this aspect of the book is handled credibly and as Hamish doesn’t appear too often I can deal with the supernatural element of this particular book. Here Rutledge also has a hint of a personal life although, as seems to be his luck, there is a sadness to this relationship too.
The historical side to the story is outstanding. You quickly realise how easy modern-day investigators have it in some ways when you consider that Rutledge has to go all the way to the next village to be able to make an important phone call in privacy and it takes several days for even small snippets of information to be found and transmitted from one part of the country to another. As I remember from the other book in the series that I’ve read the time period is also well depicted in terms of the impacts that the war had on everyone including those who served and those who lost loved ones. It’s very clear from several key events in this book that those impacts carried on long after the official end of the conflict.
Solving the main case in A Lonely Death boils down to careful interviewing of all the players and a genuine understanding of human psychology which Rutledge demonstrates to perfection. When he learns that the victims were all soldiers in the war but that the identity discs inserted into their mouths at their deaths are not their own, he knows he must identify what else links the men together and is the only policeman willing to contemplate that there is something deeper at work than the more accepted ‘crazy man’ theory. I could have done without the unrealistic coincidences of the secondary case but it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise evocative novel with a thoroughly engaging protagonist.
A Lonely Death is being published in the US (and UK?) on 4 January 2011
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My only review of another Charles Todd book is the third book in the series, Search the Dark
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4/5
Author website http://charlestodd.com/
Publisher Harper Collins 
Length 276 pages
Format uncorrected e-proof (ePub)
Book Series Number 13 in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series
Source from the publisher via Net Galley