Who will find ten-year-old Josh Robinson first, the killer who slaughtered the rest of his family or Scotland Yard’s Inspector Ian Rutledge and his familiar ghost Hamish?
Urksdale is unprepared for the carnage at the Elcott farm, where most of the family lies dead, apparently without a struggle. When Inspector Rutledge arrives, he finds most of the Lake District village searching for young Josh, who either escaped the massacre or caused it. Put up at the local B&B, where he’s drawn to the wheelchair-bound caretaker Miss Fraser, Rutledge learns of the complex beginning to the Elcott marriage. Thinking herself a widow whose husband Hugh Robinson was missing in action, Grace married Gerald. Then Hugh returned and agreed to let his pregnant former wife and two children stay with Gerald. But now Hugh, distraught over the loss of his family and the presumption that his son Josh is responsible, attempts suicide, while Grace’s sister Janet, who has reasons of her own to want her sister dead, insists that Grace was terrified of Gerald’s brother Paul. Intent on finding Josh before he freezes to death, Rutledge begins climbing the Fells as the ghost of Hamish, the soldier he was forced to execute in the Great War, struggles to point him toward the truth.
A slow beginning and melodramatic trappings put this a notch below Todd’s most compelling work. Nonetheless, Rutledge and Hamish (A Fearsome Doubt, 2002, etc.) remain two of fiction’s best antiwar spokesmen.