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by Charles Todd
William Morrow, February 2021
336 pages
ISBN: 0062905570

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Inspector Ian Rutledge has already, in his post WWI service, performed more seemingly impossible labors than the legendary Hercules, and with much less reward. His latest challenge has him driving over much of the hinterland of Wales, trying first of all to identify the murder victim. The only clues he has are a faded military tattoo, the tailor's tag in the bespoke shirt worn by the man, and possibly the location where the body was found. Being the (eternal) outsider means that nobody wants to talk to him. Everybody lies to him. He must retrace steps countless times, ask the same questions over and over again, often of the same people.

He eventually does find out who the dead man is, and in doing so finds yet another crime: the abduction of a child. The dead man's child. Are the two connected? Who would take a child from outside a small pub in a Welvillage? Again, Rutledge traces and retraces his steps, trying now to find both a murderer and a kidnapper, not knowing if he is hunting one person or two. Or perhaps more, as the deaths continue as he keeps asking questions. The people he is asking questions of keep increasing in social status, a factor which makes his inquiries all that much more difficult. The silence from headquarters is also a cause for unease.

This novel is the 23rd Ian Rutledge mystery. The plots, which have never been simple or uncomplicated, seem to be getting more and more convoluted; this is great for readers who truly enjoy a good puzzle

where the clues are hidden in (almost always) plain sight. The setting is stellar, and can probably be given serious consideration as "another character"; certainly the secondary characters play an important part in hiding and then unravelling the previously well-kept secrets of the main characters. Still I had a difficult time with A FATAL LIE. For me, this was a "read a few pages, put it down, come back later, and read a few more pages" book - not the way I am used to reading a Todd. There are certainly extraneous factors which may or may not have contributed to my reaction: my socially distant winter in a cold and snowy clime, the current political situation in my state and country, my physical inability at this time to engage in other (normally enjoyable) pursuits.

Putting all that aside, were I to recommend a Todd to someone who hasn't previously read this author, this is not the one I'd pick. The ultimate resolution has the distinct potential to be for the greater good, and yet it's not a given. I am waiting for another Todd to come along; this left a different (and different is NOT the same as bad) taste in my mouth.

I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, February 2021

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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