Proof of Guilt opens in Madeira, 1916, with the German bombing of Funchal Harbour. We see the effects on Matthew Traynor, an Englishman who runs half of a wine making and export business. His fiance is killed in the bombing and he leaves to enlist.
Four years later, a body washes ashore on Dungeness beach in England. A few months after that, a body is found in Chelsea, a man dragged to death, but there’s no car and no signs on the road of violence done. It becomes evident that the body was killed elsewhere and then dumped here, although Inspector Ian Rutledge has his suspicions about one of the residents of the street, a man who seems too comfortable putting forth theories. The dead man’s body has been stripped of identification, but Rutledge finds on it an expensive gold watch that belonged to Lewis French, who was Traynor’s partner in the Madeira wine business.
Rutledge begins on a long path to tie these things together. First he goes to visit Lewis French, only to find he’s disappeared as well. His travels take him to meet French’s sister, fiancee, and ex-fiancee, all of whom may have had a motive to get rid of the man. In spite of his wishes, he turns up evidence that seem to point to one of the women. In the meantime, his gut is telling him that guilt lies in another direction. He’s almost certain that he knows who is behind all the deaths, but can find no shred of evidence or proof.
For example, what about the young man who broke into the French home 20 years earlier, breathing murderous threats and attacking Lewis’ father with a knife, who was sent to an insane asylum and now seems totally rehabilitated, working as a gardener? What has become of the man of the house where he is now employed, who always seems to be away for vague reasons? What about the chief clerk at the Madeira wine business, who, with both partners out of the way, might see his way clear to running the business his own way? Is the body on the Dungeness shore at all related to this imbroglio? Who was the man who was dragged behind the car? Where is Lewis French, and where is his car?
Although following his hunches brings him into occasional danger, Rutledge continues to fight his way through, dealing with the demons of his past. Inspector Rutledge spent 4 years in the trenches of WWI, and deals with shell shock, visitations from one young Scot he killed himself, and occasional flashbacks. The Todds have made a specialty of this time period, and do a good job at recreating it. And although Proof of Guilt is of course part of a series, it can be read independently.
Proof of Guilt is the 7th book by Charles Todd that I’ve read, and one of the best. It’s a classic mystery story and very enjoyable to read–lots of clues, plenty of red herrings, and a crisp, satisfying conclusion.
I’m happy to say that we have a copy to give away to one of you (U.S. and Canada), thanks to TLC book tours. Leave a comment if you’d like to win, and we’ll announce the winner on February 13. The giveaway is closed.
Elizabeth adores a good mystery on a rainy afternoon, or by the pool on a sunny afternoon, or in a coffee shop or or…you get the idea. Learn more at her blog Planet Nomad. And no, there are no pools anywhere near here, but she can dream.