'A Matter of Justice' by Charles Todd

Pieces fit in latest Rutledge crime puzzle

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Everything about this crime series is synthetic, but somehow it all works.

Although set in England after World War I, the books are written by Caroline and Charles Todd, an American mother-son team with no war experience.

   
"A MATTER OF JUSTICE"

By Charles Todd
Morrow ($24.99)

   

They supply their hero, Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge, with an imaginary friend, Hamish, who keeps him uncomfortable company with his steady stream of chatter and opinions.

The character is really a manifestation of the war veteran's post-traumatic stress or "shell-shock" in 1920s parlance. In the war, officer Rutledge had Hamish executed after he refused yet another suicidal charge into German guns and he serves as Rutledge's albatross of guilt.

In the previous installment, "A Pale Horse," Hamish's constant Scottish-accented griping became annoying, but the Todds have toned him down here as Rutledge is confronted with a baffling murder in a County Somerset village.

The victim is Quarles, a nouveau-riche stock broker, beaten and hung in grotesque fashion in the barn of his posh estate. Adding historical spice is the back story of how the dead man and his partner brutally acquired the seed money for their business during the Boer War.

Other salient facts are disclosed slowly amid the suspicions of the country folk and resistance of the local constabulary.

What has distinguished the Rutledge series from other historical crime fiction is that it often transcends the whodunit formula with its concerns about the morality of war and the terrible toll it took on the British nation.

In this case, synthetic doesn't mean inauthentic.



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