World War I may be over, but the tragedies, as always in Todd’s work (A False Mirror, 2007, etc.), linger on.
At first it seems that the corpse might have fallen victim to cultists who left behind bits of candle wax and a book on alchemy. But Inspector Rutledge, dispatched to the Yorkshire countryside to settle matters, quickly dispels that notion before returning to Scotland Yard. When the War Office sends him back to find a missing scientist, he wonders if it’s that forlorn corpse. A local copper with vengeful fantasies of his own insists that no, it’s the bloke who scarred his lost love’s face and was done in by her husband, the village schoolmaster. Rutledge, with niggling asides from Hamish, the ghost of the soldier he executed for desertion, has another candidate: Gaylord Partridge, who may have taken on the alias to hide from the War Department, his estranged daughters and his obscure guilt. More murder and arson follow. The village is rife with nightmares, the inevitable consequences of unspeakable behavior during the War. Secrets are everywhere and relationships shattered by war undermine nearly everyone, especially the grieving Rutledge, who must determine who’s who, who killed whom and why the victims had to die.
Another penetrating, emotionally lacerating antiwar fable from a master of the form. If the Washington hawks who cajole us into battle could be induced to read Todd, they might have second thoughts.