Two years after the Great War ends, another, more personal war begins.
Retiring from the Yard, Chief Inspector Cummins confides in his protégé Ian Rutledge that an unsolved murder at Stonehenge has tormented him for years. But Rutledge is overwhelmed already. First his friend Max, consumed by war memories, commits suicide; then Rutledge is sent off to Eastfield, Sussex, to deal with three garrotings in nine days, each victim found with someone else’s wartime identity disc in his mouth. Many of the villagers suspect the absent brother of one of the victims, but the schoolmistress, vehemently defending him, asks the Yard to recall Rutledge for misbehavior. When his career adversary and replacement, Inspector Mickelson, is brutally attacked after identifying the wrong suspect, Rutledge is arrested for attempted murder. Ultimately released and reinstated, Rutledge, with help from Hamish, the ghost of the soldier he had to have executed in the war, zeroes in on another suspect, a former schoolmate of the garroting victims, now exacting revenge for years of bullying. Once a chance meeting with a past love, Meredith Channing, ends sadly, Rutledge heads for a French battlefield, his service revolver in his pocket and suicide on his mind. But better sense prevails, sending Rutledge back to Eastfield, where he can deal with the murders if he doesn’t become the next victim.
Cummins’s case is perhaps too neatly tied to a deathbed scene at Max’s home. But one shouldn’t quibble when Todd (The Red Door, 2009, etc.) so eloquently blasts war for the obscenity it is.