Tolkien’s second novel (The Final Witness, 2002), set in 1959 England, mixes an old-school murder mystery with courtroom melodrama.
Professor Cade was well known for his knowledge of illuminated manuscripts, not for his warm demeanor and people skills. He was estranged from Stephen, his only biological son. Someone pierced his lung with a rifle bullet during a trip several years ago, and one can assume it probably wasn’t because his personality was too winning. Entertainment at the evening meal at his manor house usually consisted of Sergeant Ritter, who served under the professor in France during the waning days of World War II and then as a housekeeper at the manor, mercilessly berating Cade’s adopted son Silas. His assistant, Sasha, secretly hated the professor’s guts due to the underhanded tactics Cade used to secure tenure, ruining her father in the process. Yet, despite being surrounded by people who despised him, when Professor Cade was shot through the head one night in his study the evidence against Stephen was so overwhelming, Inspector Trave, the man in charge of the investigation, had no choice but to lock him up almost immediately. Stephen was duly charged and tried, but as the trial dragged on, Trave began to have his doubts about Stephen’s guilt. In any event, he began to wish he’d spent some time looking into certain unpleasant events involving Professor—then Colonel—Cade that happened in a church in northern France at the end of the war, something to do with a mysterious codex and an ancient, jewel-encrusted cross. Although ostensibly set in the late 1950s, Tolkien’s book never captures the era. Apart from the plot’s dependence on events that took place at the end of WWII, there is nothing to anchor it to the time.
Competently done, but largely forgettable.