Inspector Ian Rutledge’s 20th appearance finds him fighting for control of a case no one wants him to solve.
Left unexpectedly at loose ends by his sister Frances’ wedding, Rutledge, who’s taken several days’ leave from Scotland Yard, drives off into the night and doesn’t stop until he comes upon another motorcar in the middle of the road and a woman alongside it with blood on her hands. Elizabeth MacRae tells Rutledge a wildly improbable story: a stranger stepped out into the road, stopped the vehicle, and then, after the briefest possible exchange, shot Elizabeth’s companion, bookseller Stephen Wentworth, in the heart and ran off. Rutledge insists that the Yard be called in so he can snatch the case away from local Inspector Larry Reed. Reed, only two weeks married himself, is not pleased at being bypassed in favor of a man who may have been the first officer on the scene but was present as a witness rather than an officer, and the two men repeatedly clash. It’s just as well that they do, for despite its name, things remain eerily quiet around the village of Wolfpit as Rutledge, driven by an anonymous accusation of Wentworth as a murderer who deserved his fate, begins his questioning. The dead man may have been impulsive—he returned from the Great War, purchased a bookshop from an old friend, and then suddenly took a trip to Peru—but he seems to have had no enemies except his monstrous mother, who’s always blamed him for the death of his twin brother when they were both just 6 months old. Progress on the case is produced not by Rutledge’s inquiries but by two more shootings, all linked, it becomes increasingly evident, to a medieval treatise on apples.
Not the strongest outing for the memorably shellshocked sleuth (Racing the Devil, 2017, etc.). The suspects are shadowy and indistinct, the detection is slow, and the murders are both less interesting and less potent than the mystery foreshadowed by Todd’s title.