While fishing, three men find the body of a man wearing an officer’s uniform. He has clearly been murdered. A search of the body reveals a wallet containing one hundred pounds and papers identifying the deceased as Justin Fowler. After a short discussion, the men agree to divide the money more or less equally and to move the body further into the current so it will travel away from them. The body isn’t that of a local so there is no need to fret about informing family and the police would demand information about what was found and the loss of the money would be discovered. Better to keep quiet and keep the money.
London, Summer 1920
“The visitor was a walking skeleton, pale except for his dark hair and his pain-ridden dark eyes. Sitting down gingerly in the chair that Rutledge offered, he seemed to feel the hardness of the seat in his bones, for he moved a little, as if hoping to find a more comfortable spot…. ‘My name is Wyatt Russell….I’m dying of cancer and I want to clear my conscience before I go. I killed a man in 1915, and I got away with it.'” Russell tells Rutledge that the man he killed was his cousin, Justin Fowler. Russell tells Rutledge that he has a home in the Essex Marshes but he refuses to give him any other information. A confession doesn’t automatically require an arrest. The murder happened five years before, there is no body, no weapon, no motive. Russell invited Rutledge to join him for lunch during which the two men engage in conversation unrelated to murder. Russell leaves and Rutledge knows that there isn’t enough time left to the other man that they would meet again.
Two weeks later, the body of a man is pulled from the Thames. The body carries no identification but around the neck is a gold locket containing the picture of a young woman. The locket is engraved with the letter E. The police sergeant who had brought Russell to Rutledge’s office comes to him with a picture of the deceased. Rutledge recognizes Russell and fears the man has committed suicide but he has been murdered. Rutledge takes the picture of Russell to the village in the marshes where he had claimed to live. The man is recognized but not by the name Russell. Wyatt Russell, the man who had confessed to the murder of a man whom he had not named, is now unnamed himself.
As with all the books in the series, the writing team that is Charles Todd present a solid story that is strong in time and place. The world is changing rapidly after the displacement of World War I but the authors maintain the character of the time. People did not reveal their lives to each and all. Privacy was respected, reticence was expected. If a man decided not to return to his birthplace after the war, he could reinvent himself and fear few questions. Social classes had become more fluid and intelligence and talent were emerging as the great levelers in society. The Todds capture the period meticulously.