Inspector Ian Rutledge’s 22nd case revolves around two young women found dead in utterly unexpected places.
Scheduled to give evidence in an ongoing investigation, Rutledge can’t go to the village of Avebury—where a body has been found stabbed to death in the center of a circle of prehistoric stones—in the place of Chief Inspector Brian Leslie when Rutledge’s nemesis, Chief Superintendent Markham, sends Leslie there when he'd been looking forward to a couple of days off. Instead, Rutledge ends up going to the Shropshire village of Tern Bridge, where a woman eventually identified as Bath schoolmistress Serena Palmer has been stabbed and tossed into a grave dug the day before for someone else. After a witness’s unexpectedly keen eye and sharp memory puts Rutledge on a trail that leads with disconcerting suddenness to Serena Palmer’s killer, he’s sent to Avebury after all, since Leslie’s conscientiously thorough inquiries have identified neither the killer nor the victim. This mystery, Rutledge finds, is just as murky as the Shropshire murder was clear, and he despairs that he’ll ever have anything to add to Leslie’s report. Constantly threatened by Markham, who’s still holding the letter of resignation Rutledge submitted to him after his last case (The Black Ascot, 2019, etc.), and intermittently needled by the ghost of Cpl. Hamish McLeod, the corporal he executed in a trench in 1916 when he refused to lead troops into further fighting in the Somme, Rutledge struggles with a case whose every lead—a necklace of lapis lazuli beads, a trove of letters written to the victim—leads him not so much to enlightenment as to ever deepening sadness. The final twist may not surprise eagle-eyed readers, but it will reveal why Todd’s generic-sounding title is painfully apt.
If you’re in a receptive mood, nobody evokes long postwar shadows or overwhelming postwar grief better than Todd.