Inspector Rutledge’s 15th investigation concerns a corpse without a name.
Although its injuries are consistent with being struck down by a motorcar, the body lying in a quiet street in Chelsea shows signs of having been dragged along, and all identification was removed except for a handsome heirloom watch in a vest pocket. Tracing the origin of the timepiece leads Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge (The Confession, 2012, etc.) to French, French and Traynor, wine merchants: Lewis French, grandson of the founder, inherited the watch after his older brother Michael died in the war. Mr. Lewis French is unavailable to interview. Gooding, the firm’s chief clerk, says he’s in Essex awaiting the arrival of his partner and cousin Matthew Traynor, who oversees the firm’s production of Madeira in Portugal. But is he? His sister hasn’t spoken to him recently. Nor has his fiancee, or his former fiancee. Could Lewis be the Chelsea corpse? Could it be Matthew Traynor, who has yet to arrive from Portugal? Rutledge discovers sibling squabbles and a heated encounter decades ago concerning the ownership of the Portuguese vineyards. Following this lead brings him to the doorstep of a Mrs. Bennett, whose husband is missing and whose staff is composed of prisoners and mental patients released to her care, including the manipulative Alfonso Diaz, who looks forward to returning to Portugal to die. When more unidentifiable bodies turn up, Rutledge will have his hands full putting names to them, identifying motives for their deaths and disproving his Acting Chief Superintendent’s choice of villains.
Sturdily if not elegantly plotted, with the ghost of Hamish, the soldier Rutledge ordered executed in the war, still haranguing him.