Inspector Rutledge of Scotland Yard is sent to a small town in Dorset to investigate the supposed murder of a mother and the subsequent disappearance of her two children, but there’s a catch. This particular mother and her children reportedly died, and were buried, during the war. The man being blamed for their death/disappearance is the father. So was he so desperate to see his family that he mistook someone else for them or were they really alive? Where are the children? Is the woman, whose face has been beaten so badly that she is unrecognizable, really the wife of the man blamed for her death? The local detective Hildebrandt says yes, but Rutledge is not so sure. Now he has to not only figure out what’s what on this case, but he has to fight the local constabulary to do so.
Being a fan of crime and mystery novels, I was fairly certain I would like this one and I did. I’m not going to rank him with writers like Agatha Christie, P.D. James or Elizabeth George, however, especially as I’ve only read this one novel by Todd, but he tells a good tale. The characters are likeable, or not as the case may be, and the plot is clever and not at all transparent. My only real qualm is that Rutledge, an otherwise entirely sane man, if rather beaten up from the war, hosts the conscious of his old friend Hamish in his mind. Hamish seems to be a separate entity from Rutledge with his own thoughts and consciousness instead of functioning as Rutledge’s inner voice. It seems a little cheesy to me, but maybe I’ll get used to it when I’ve read more by Todd. It might do, however I personally think this is what’s keeping me from classifying him as a serious crime writer. It’s like he’s built Hamish in so he can keep himself from being compared to the major names in crime. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know, but for me, he’s a good writer, but not great.
Having said that, I don’t really believe that all writers need to be great. It’s wonderful to read a great book, but sometimes it’s just as nice to sit down and read a good, comfortable story. I don’t need to be riveted to every book I pick up. Being able to put it down, then looking forward to going back to at an appropriate time is a pleasure unto itself. Just knowing that you have something pleasant to return to is wonderful. So, even if I don’t class all the books I read as brilliant, or give them a 5 out of 5, I don’t see it as reflecting negatively on the writer. After all, it’s better to be consistently good than to be great just once in your life. In that sense, Todd’s 15 min. aren’t over.