previously mixed history with Charles Todd mysteries and the Bess Crawford series, I was eager to try out one of the Ian Rutledge books. For my own reading, Proof of Guilt was a superior story, if only because I found the characters and the subject matter to be more compelling. There's just something about a Scotland Yard inspector in the London of the 1920s (or 1920 to be exact) that struck me personally as being very interesting. Maybe it's ambience :)
As for plot: a body is discovered (apparently having been run over), and Scotland Yard is initially at a loss to identify this victim. The only point to start with is a watch that is believed to have come from the French family, which is their name and not their nationality, who are part-owners of a Madeira firm located out of Portugal. The watch, however, is just a start, and identifying the man isn't as easy as Scotland Yard hopes. What remains odd is the Lewis French, initially believed to be the owner of the watch, isn't the victim. But Lewis French is also missing. So what exactly is going on?
Inevitably, the story takes a number of twists and turns, and Inspector Rutledge must dig into the French family's past to find a variety of ugly secrets that only make the mystery more complicated. I've come to realize this is a standard feature of Charles Todd novels, even more so than your average mystery (which, of course, tends to dangle any number of red herrings at the reader). One feature that I find particularly interesting is that the authors, a mother-son writing team, commented about their writing that they don't set out with a specific conclusion in mind but rather let the story evolve as they write. Now I don't know for sure if this is the case specifically with Proof of Guilt, but it has a similar style as the Bess Crawford books I read, so I suspect this particular approach was applied at least in part. I like the idea in theory, although I find the result to be a little disorienting, not to mention somewhat lacking in purpose, in places. Then again, this is probably what real police work feels like at times, so there's a measure of attempted verisimilitude in this type of writing.
All in all, I found this to be a satisfying mystery for anyone who enjoys the Charles Todd stories and particularly for fans of Inspector Rutledge.
Year of publication: 2013
Number of pages: 343