Reviews by L. J. Roberts


CHARLES TODD – A Fatal Lie. Inspector Ian Rutledge #23. William Morrow, hardcover, February 2021.

First Sentence: On his sixth birthday, Roddy MacNabb was given a fishing pole by his pa, with promises to teach him how to use it.

   Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge is sent to Northern Wales where a man’s body was pulled from the River Dee by a young boy. It’s first thought the man had fallen from the viaduct that spans high above the river, put there are no signs of a fall, no identification on the body, and no one claims to know him.

   Only a few clues lead Rutledge on a trail to identify the victim, recreate the man’s recent travels, and uncover both the motive and the person responsible for the man’s death, and those that follow.

   Authors strive to create a good “hook,” the opening which will compel the reader to keep turning the pages. Todd’s opening does that very effectively.

   Ian is a unique character. Shell shock; i.e., PTSD, from WWI has left him with the voice of Hamish, a soldier executed for desertion, in his head. We are reminded of the cost of war, not only in the number of the dead, but the lasting impact on the veterans and their families— “A fine soldier, liked by his men, he didn’t suffer, and we must be proud of him, for he gave his life for his King and Country. That isn’t terribly reassuring, is it?”

   It is always fascinating to read about the forensics of the time. Todd weaves details of places, such as the operations of the aqueduct, and history, the Bantam Battalions, smoothly into the story. These create strong visual images and play into the fact that in the days before technology, police work was done by pulling the thread of clues, a lot of travel, and intuition.

   One does need to keep track of who is where. Between the character names and Ian traveling from place to place, and back again, it can become confusing. Pulling up a map proves helpful.

   It is also a challenge to follow the timeline. There is a lack of clarity as to when things happened as there can be the impression of something happening in the past only to realize it is in the recent past.

   Follow the trail of bodies which are always one step in front of Ian. Yet it seems to take a while before any real progress is made and then, after all the to-ing and fro-ing, there is the great and complete confession. Good grief.

   A Fatal Lie is a good book, but not as good as usual. The dialogue was weak, the usual wry humor was completely lacking, and the book could have used some serious editing and simplifying. One wonders whether because of COVID, the authors had little to do but write, so they just kept putting things in.

   Here’s hoping for a crisper, more involving book #24.

Rating: Okay