A loathed village squire comes to a ghastly end.
Harold Quarles’s body is found suspended in the harness used to waft the Christmas angel over the holiday festivalgoers in Cambury, Somerset. The setup is so garish and outlandish that Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, sent to investigate, assumes that the killer bore Quarles an exceptional personal hatred. Even given that extreme pattern, there’s no shortage of suspects. The man’s wife reviled him. So did the village baker and organist, the local copper, Quarles’s estate manager and the men whose wives and daughters he had targeted for dalliances. His former business partner, Davis Penrith, had recently dissolved their London partnership for unspecified reasons, and eight men who suffered huge losses under Quarles’s Cumberline African investment fiasco had motives for revenge. As in every Todd adventure (A Pale Horse, 2007, etc.), however, the real reasons for his death hearken back to wartime atrocities—this time those of the Boer War 20 years before, when Quarles set in motion his fatal end by covering up his sullied past. The horrific outcome leads to three more deaths on the remote Scilly Isles and yet more malfeasance in Cambury.
In many ways a more subdued Todd, with many earmarks of a classic village mystery and less byplay from Hamish, the ghost who haunts Rutledge. But the author manages to slip in yet another antiwar message by tormenting Rutledge with the emotional repercussions of his own battle experiences.