London, July, 1920 – Chief Inspector Cummins is clearing out his desk in preparation for his retirement. Ian Rutledge is helping him pack up his books when Cummins begins to talk about his years at Scotland Yard. He tells Rutledge that he enjoyed the hunt, the chase to catch the criminal but there is one case he has not been able to solve and it has haunted him for fifteen years. “I was a little superstitious about it, if you want the truth. I kept the folder on my desk for years, telling myself I’d get to the bottom of it, sooner or later….What bothered me most was not knowing whether the dead man was a victim or a sacrifice.” Cummins tells Rutledge of the midsummer night in 1905 when a group of young people decided to celebrate the solstice at Stonehenge, dressing as druids. As the sun came up, they saw a man draped across the sacrifice stone, dead from a stab wound. The would-be Druids claimed not to know him and he could have been there before they group arrived. Cummins eventually discovered that he was Harvey Wheeler from the Orkney Islands but he never discovered motive, weapon, or suspect. Rutledge knows Cummins was a diligent investigator and he decides that as he travels around England he will keep the case of Harvey Wheeler in mind.
Eastfield, Sussex, July, 1920 – In the span of a few days, three local men are murdered as they walk about their business in the dark. All of the men are taken by surprise because there is no evidence that they tried to defend themselves. All have been garroted. All served in the war although not in the same regiments. All grew up in Eastfield and were of the same age. All were found with an identity disk in their mouths bearing the name of a soldier but not their own. Panic sets in. Two are farmer and one is the heir to the local brewery business. If they could be killed so easily was any man in Eastfield safe?
Rutledge is nearby, attending the funeral of a good friend, a man who could not escape the demons from the fields of France. He is sent to Eastfield to assist the local police. Max took his own life rather than live with what he believes he has become. Is it the war that made the Eastfield men targets of a killer?
As with all the books in the Ian Rutledge series, this one has the same elegant prose, reflecting, perhaps, the time before the rapid social changes after WW I are not yet mirrored in the social structure of rural England.
The authors devote no more than 2 1/2 pages to each of the victims yet the characters are described in such detail that each is vivid and distinct from an other. The setting, a small town near Hastings, is made real in part because the authors don’t spend many words on describing Eastfield. But, they use words brilliantly to create atmosphere. Ian Rutledge is claustrophobic after being buried in a trench in France under the body of Hamish MacLeod, the voice that is always with him. The Eastfield as created by the authors is a place where the lives of its residents are tied so tightly for so many generations that the choices that can be made by the people are limited by history and their roles in the life of the town. This is not a negative. Readers in the twenty-first century are taken back to the early twentieth century to a place that exists only in the imaginations of the authors who invite us to join them.
Ian Rutledge is getting stronger. The Todds have used a very interesting device that allows time to pass slowly so that as changes happen around him, Ian is also changing. A LONELY DEATH is the thirteenth book in the series. The first book in the series is set in July, 1919. Each of the first twelve books is placed chronologically after that month and year. The thirteenth book is set in July, 1920. The war ended on November 11, 1918. Ian Rutledge is introduced to readers only 8 months after he would have been discharged from the army. The reader does not know how long Rutledge was in the hospital for shell shock but it is important to keep in mind that his wounds, psychic and otherwise, have had very little time to heal. But they are healing and the reader can see it happening from book to book as Ian builds a life after war.