Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: No Shred of Evidence by Charles Todd

No Shred of Evidence by Charles Todd, March 2016, 352 pages, William Morrow, ISBN: 0062386182

Reviewed by Terry Halligan.
(Read more of Terry's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

It is Autumn 1920 in a village near Padstow in Cornwall and four middle class young ladies who have been spending the weekend together, decide to go out in a rowing boat on the river Heyl, but unfortunately they have an accident. After being out for some time they see a young man of their acquaintance, in another rowing boat, rapidly sink, and as the water is quite deep, he manages to struggle across to their boat. They really have great difficulty in trying to pull him onto their boat as his waterlogged clothing makes him very heavy, one of the girls brings an oar towards him with the hope that he should grab it but the effort for her is too much and she accidentally drops it and it appears to strike his head. A man on the riverbank sees the struggle that the girls are having and swims out to them and clambers aboard and tries artificial respiration on the victim but he still appears unconscious.

The man on the riverbank accuses the girls of attempting to kill the victim and the police are forced, because of adverse local public opinion, to arrest the girls for attempted murder. The girls spend a night in a local jail but as the facilities are very poor they are placed under house arrest at the house of a local magistrate who happens to be the father of one of the girls. Similarly, as the crime is outside the experience of the local constabulary, Scotland Yard are requested to send a detective to investigate. An Inspector Barrington was sent down initially but unfortunately on the first day of his investigation he suffered a fatal heart attack and died. Because of this, Inspector Ian Rutledge is ordered by his Superintendent to replace Barrington and start a fresh investigation.

Rutledge had only just returned from Derbyshire on a previous investigation and was not expecting to be reassigned so quickly, he follows orders, however, and drives down to Cornwall. Rutledge was an officer on the Somme, during the Great War and was forced to shoot a Scottish soldier Hamish MacLeod for directly refusing an order. As a result of this Rutledge is haunted by the inner voice of Hamish constantly pointing out negative possibilities for almost all of his actions. Little was known at that time of post traumatic stress disorder. When Rutledge reaches Heyl village he starts his investigation but is hampered by not being able to locate any of the case notes that his predecessor, Inspector Barrington had made. Accordingly, he feels obliged to start investigating completely from the beginning.

Although 1920 almost seems within living memory, of course it is almost historic in that many of the furnishings and appliances that we take for granted were completely absent. Thus, interviews with all the persons involved was very important to build a picture of the background. As there were very few telephones available to the public Rutledge could not telephone Scotland Yard to report in, he could only send telegrams but that presented problems of confidentiality, as he could not be sure who may read it during transit and therefore had to be very circumspect in his approach. A national telephone service was not available until the mid 1920s.

"Charles Todd" is the pen name of the American authors Caroline and Charles Todd. This mother-and-son writing partnership live in the Eastern USA in adjoining states and have used their writing partnership to co-write more than twenty-five historical mysteries. They have two main series: the Detective Inspector Ian Rutledge one and separately the Sister Bess Crawford books about a First World War nursing sister who gets involved in several mysteries.

This book is extremely well researched for the period and is a testament to the authors' frequent research trips to the UK. I read for review purposes, A FINE SUMMER'S DAY, as well as many of the other books privately and I really enjoy their highly imaginative and well researched plots enormously and always look forward to reading their stories as I know from previous experience that I will be gripped until the last page is closed. Extremely well recommended.

Terry Halligan, May 2016.

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