This is the second novel in Todd’s Inspector Rutledge series. In this installment, Inspector Rutledge is sent to Cornwall by his Scotland Yard superior to investigate the three deaths of three half siblings in a local manor house. Two have apparently died as a result of a suicide pact, the other as a result of an accident. Rutledge is there to investigate the possibility of foul play, although his jealous superior really wants to keep him away from the hunt for a serial killer currently taking place in London.
Todd – a mother and son writing team – go for atmosphere in this novel. By setting the narrative in an old house by the sea in Cornwall, it appears that they were trying to channel Daphne du Maurier. “Trying” is the operative word here, because in my view they don’t succeed in evoking the gothic atmosphere of Rebecca or in otherwise making the reader really feel the setting. The combined Todds don’t have du Maurier’s way with words. Also, the fact that they described a character as having seaside souvenirs from Truro – an inland town – made me wonder whether they have in fact been to Cornwall.
If I had been fully engaged with the narrative, I would probably not make such a pedantic point. I wanted to like the novel more than I did. However, the writing, while competent enough, doesn’t shine. The plot is also competent and generally held my interest, but I guessed the identity of the culprit early on. Nothing very clever was involved in this - just a process of elimination – but I’m always vaguely irritated when it happens. Also, too much of the narrative is advanced by telling and not showing. Most of it involves Rutledge moving in a ceaseless round of interviewing one character after another, which gets a little tedious.
The major problem I have with the first novel in the series, A Test Of Wills, continues in this novel. That problem is Hamish. Inspector Rutledge is a WWI veteran with what used to be called shellshock. So far, so interesting. A symptom of his mental state is that he hears the voice of Hamish, a dead Scottish soldier. In my view, this plot device does not work well because Hamish is supposed to fill too many roles. At times Hamish is Rutledge’s conscience; at other times he is Rutledge’s sub-conscious. He is also the chattering inner voice which all of us have. Sometimes Hamish tells Rutledge things which realistically neither the conscious Rutledge nor his sub-conscious could possibly know. To me, Hamish is expected to do too much work for a symptom of psychosis.
Overall, I liked this book better than A Test Of Wills. Rutledge is an interesting and sympathetic protagonist and the Todds are not bad storytellers. I haven’t decided whether I’ll read the third book in the series. Maybe I will, but I’m in no hurry to do so, which indicates that the series is not really a winner for me.