A Fearsome Doubt by Charles Todd: A review

A Fearsome Doubt (Inspector Ian Rutledge, #6)A Fearsome Doubt by Charles Todd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is one year after the Armistice ended "the war to end all wars," but Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard is still haunted by his time in the trenches and still suffering from post traumatic stress, or "shell-shock" as it was then called. He has returned to his old life and tried to move on and make the best of things, but the past keeps intruding. And he still carries with him at all times the persona and the voice of Hamish MacLeod, the young soldier under his command who he was forced to have executed for insubordination in the field.

And now, a new burden is added.

In 1912, as a very young policeman, Rutledge was instrumental in seeing a man condemned to hang for the murders of three elderly women. Rutledge had provided the evidence that had sent Ben Shaw to the gallows. He had never doubted that Shaw was guilty and that the verdict was just, until almost seven years later Shaw's widow comes to see him and presents him with what she says is evidence that must clear her husband. Rutledge reluctantly agrees to review the case and look at the evidence once again.  

But before he can accomplish that, his superior, Superintendent Bowles, sends him to Kent where former soldiers who had lost a limb in the war are being killed, one by one, with overdoses of laudanum. Three men had been killed when Rutledge is assigned to the case.

He returns to Kent where he had visited only a few days before and had had an unsettling experience of seeing a face from the war during a bonfire on Guy Fawkes Night. It was a face that had no business being there - a German officer whom Rutledge thought was dead. Now, as he takes up the investigation of the murders, he wonders if the German is somehow involved.

Rutledge makes the disturbing discovery that the attractive widow of his friend who was killed in the war seems to be infatuated with a new man. And who, in fact, might this mysterious man be and what, if any, is his relationship to the murders?

Rutledge follows the meager trail of evidence that exists regarding the murders of the unfortunate men and tries to find a connection that will lead him to a solution. Meantime, he is being hounded by Ben Shaw's widow insisting that he get on with proving that her dead husband was unjustly convicted. No wonder the poor man is unable to get a good night's sleep and no wonder his nerves are a wreck!

Charles Todd (actually a pseudonym for a mother and son writing team) deals sympathetically with the issue of shell-shock and what it must have been like for a soldier from World War I suffering from it. This series is very good at recreating the feel of that period just after the war when British society had been decimated by the loss of so many of its men and by the permanent disability of so many others. The depression that was the dominant emotional state of that period is palpable in the atmosphere which the books impart. It is a long and continuing series and it will be interesting to see how that atmosphere develops and possibly changes as the series goes on. I look forward to finding out.

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