In 1921 England, Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Rutledge to Essex to investigate an unusual murder: There is a witness to the crime, but no body has been found. And the witness, an eminently respectable middle-aged woman who lives in the local manor house after losing both her husband and her son to World War I, recognized the murderer — a soldier who died several years earlier during the war.
Readers of the series will instantly understand from that summary the potential this case has to be an emotional land mine for Rutledge: He came back from fighting in France with a severe case of shell shock and the voice of his dead sergeant, Hamish, constantly in his head. How will be cope with investigating a murder apparently committed by a ghost against an invisible victim?
This 24th entry in the series is excellent, skillfully weaving the actual murder investigation into an examination of WWI’s lingering effects on the home front and the people left to pick up the pieces in a world devoid of so many of their loved ones. There’s also a subplot involving a woman Rutledge carries an unacknowledged torch for, which hints that there may be some further development on that front in future books.
About those future books: The preface to this one is an homage from one-half of the writing team that makes up the Charles Todd pseudonym, to his mother, who was the other half and has recently died. The ending of the book is not a cliffhanger that would all but assure another entry, but it’s also not a neat tidying up of all the dangling plot lines, either. So I live in hope that come next February, I’ll be happily spending time again with Inspector Rutledge for the 25th time.