PROOF OF GUILT heralds the return of Inspector Ian Rutledge, one of fiction’s most haunted detectives. This series is set in the early 20th century in the still-uneasy years subsequent to the end of World War I.
For Rutledge, the war continues in his own mind; he suffers from an almost paralyzing claustrophobia, an affliction that he takes great pains to hide from his colleagues and superiors at Scotland Yard. Worse, however, is the spirit who shares his mind --- that being Hamish, a fellow British soldier who Rutledge executed in the line of duty. Hamish is by turns a devil’s advocate, early warning system, and colleague; in all probability, he is the voice of Rutledge’s subconscious, one that manifests itself at occasionally inopportune moments. It is but one indication that Rutledge, as brilliant and driven as he is, simply is not quite right.
"PROOF OF GUILT is one of Charles Todd’s more complex mysteries, which does not seem to be wrapped up entirely by book’s end. The pace of the proceedings is well-suited to the times in which its story is set... The multifaceted plot is better enjoyed at the slower pace with which it is presented."
Charles Todd, the collective mother-and-son writing team who created Rutledge and gave him his unique (and multiple) voice, provides yet another complex and puzzling mystery to form the heart of PROOF OF GUILT. The case begins when a dead body is found on a London street. The deceased appears to have been run down by a “motorcar,” a heretofore rare occurrence that, in 1920 England, is beginning to happen with increasing regularity. The dead man possesses no identification or unique marks; there is also some indication that he was killed elsewhere.
Rutledge follows what slim and few clues there are to the door of French, French and Traynor, a firm that is renowned for its production and sale of the world’s best Madeira wine. Lewis French, the domestic head of the firm, has gone missing, which is quite uncharacteristic for him. Is he dead, or is he merely on a frolic of his own? The latter seems somewhat unlikely; the former is a distinct possibility, and suspects abound, from two women with whom he has been romantically tied --- one to whom he was engaged and jilted, the other to whom he is currently promised --- to his very off-putting sister, to the head clerk of the firm’s London office, who perhaps was expecting more than what had come, promotion-wise.
What started as a potential homicide soon dovetails into a missing person’s case, which is made more difficult by Rutledge’s stiff acting superior who never met an inclination that he could not unreservedly run with, regardless of evidence. Rutledge’s investigation takes him and his motor car out of London and into the English countryside to the French family homestead, where the missing sister sits and broods (and more), while secrets abound here, there and everywhere. When the head of the firm’s foreign operations goes missing as well, there seems to be an organized plot against the family and its business. Rutledge ultimately makes some arrests, but those only make things worse. He is sure that the wrong people are being charged with murder, and the rush to judgment that quickly snowballs makes it all the more mandatory that Rutledge, with Hamish in mental tow, find the real murderer expeditiously.
PROOF OF GUILT is one of Charles Todd’s more complex mysteries, which does not seem to be wrapped up entirely by book’s end. The pace of the proceedings is well-suited to the times in which its story is set; telephones are not readily available, so that communications are slowed, as is transportation, even with gasoline-powered vehicles. The multifaceted plot is better enjoyed at the slower pace with which it is presented. However, not everyone may be happy with the ending. While a number of mysteries of greater and lesser magnitude are sorted out, not all of the players are entirely accounted for by the last page, thus leaving some question marks hanging. These no doubt will be resolved soon, but in the interim, PROOF OF GUILT will provide much to enjoy.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 31, 2013