What will cause a born pacifist, a man raised as a Quaker, one who lived consciously in a neutral country to suddenly enlist in an army to fight is how Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd begins. The cause is the tragic death of his mother and fiancée during a sneak attack by a German submarine in the harbor on the Portugal island of Madeira on 3 December 1916. Four years later during early summer of 1920, Billings, of Scotland Yard, hears of a dead man who has washed up on the coast of Sussex, England. Upon examination he discovers it is not the man is looking for. Late summer 1920, a body is discovered on a dark street in London soon after the body on the coast. It has apparently been struck by a motorcar and dragged some; however there are no signs of dragging and no blood found in the street. In addition, the constable on duty found the body at half past and didn’t see it during his last pass while the coroner states he has been dead for hours. When interviewing a resident, Mr Belford, Ian Rutledge, the senior Scotland Yard detective on the scene is told by Belford that the body must have been killed elsewhere and dumped here as he excuses himself and returns home. The only way to identify the dead man is through his watch, which gets us back to Lisbon. Rutledge believes the dead man is Lewis French because of the watch. But there were two watches and maybe an illegitimate child.
Rutledge served in WWI. He had to execute Hamish MacLeod for failing to obey an order. It was under his dead body after the execution that Rutledge was found alive following a vicious bomb attack by the Germans. Every so often when Rutledge is in deep thought, he has conversations with Hamish, sometimes out loud. “Hamish said, ‘Aye, It smacks of failure.’ And for the rest of the journey Hamish seemed to hover just behind his shoulder, commenting on everything that Rutledge preferred to set aside.” Rutledge is trying to find the identity of the dead man and is spending lots of time in Essex, the country home of Lewis French. He’s learning a lot about Lewis, but still no Lewis.
Finally they find the car in Surrey and suddenly many clues from the past lead to Surrey. The past is rearing its ugly head in the present and creating chaos for the French family and confounding Rutledge. There is a fancy ladies handkerchief found in the found car and Rutledge is wondering where it will lead. Desdemona and her lost handkerchief come to mind. Things are going slowly, maybe a bit too slowly. The investigation is so circuitous as well, as they follow any lead. Then the other partner Traynor has gone missing and it is Hamish who offers the soundest advice. “Twa men, partners in the same firm, missing. It’s no’ likely to be coincidence.”
Hamish thinks Rutledge is ‘supping with the devil’ as the latter has brought Belford into the case and coerced the French, French, and Traynor lawyers to do some legwork for him as well. Rutledge is stumped and is ‘supping with the devil’ to solve this case. Trying to force the killer’s hand Ian sets himself as bait “the goat to the tiger” and has made an arrest to further confuse the situation.
I love how the English are so into their gardens.