Revenge was a dish best served cold.
Charles Todd returns to the world of Ian Rutledge in a story that is everything we expect from his series. The Black Ascot opens with Rutledge doing what he does best: relentlessly traveling in his motorcar through England's countryside, searching for Alan Barrington, rumored to have murdered society lady of Blanche Fletcher Munro in June 1910 at the Black Ascot horse race. After Blanche's death in a car accident and then the suicide of Blanche's one true love, Mark Thorne, Barrington disappeared without a trace and was presumed to have left the country. Ten years have passed, and Barrington has never been found.
The newspapers had been full of the crash and the subsequent hunt for the man thought to be responsible. The initial report had described it as an accident and determined that the driver had lost control. Some people were of the opinion that Barrington hadn't been found because he'd killed himself after he learned that the "wrong person had died in the wreckage" - Blanche rather her current husband, Harold Fletcher Munro. Returning to London, Rutledge mulls over a sighting of Barrington. It would certainly be "a feather in the Yard's cap" if they found him and brought him in. Putting the resources of the Yard at his disposal, Chief Superintendent Jameson asks Rutledge to find Barrington: "If Barrington is in England, I want him in custody."
Rutledge travels to the Barrington family seat in the village of Melton Rush. Who is keeping buildings in good repair? Who sees to the wages of the staff and makes critical decisions about the properties and the man's personal finances? According to Jonathan Strange, the lawyer handling Barrington's affairs, Alan was desperately in love with Blanche since before Mark Thorne married her. Lieutenant Johnson recalls the case at the Yard back 1908 when Mark Thorne was thought to have either fallen or jumped over the cliffs at Beachy Head. Call it arrogance, call it a game in a life that has become stressful, but Ian plunges ever further into a quagmire that forces him to question his career as a detective.
From a possible sighting of Barrington in Trafalgar Square to a clue that takes Ian to the villages of Sandwich and Dover, Ian constructs a portrait of Blanche and the three men who were in love with her. Back in his London flat, Ian looks at vital evidence, thinking about his interview with Blanche's best friend, Jane Warden, and the connection that Miss Loraine Belmont had to Barrington. Both women soon prove to be masters at manipulating the conversation.
Characters from earlier books, such as Ian's beloved Melinda Crawford, are woven into the story, adding richness for those who have read the whole series. The Black Ascot wouldn't be complete without the ghost of Hamish, who helps Ian make a powerful connection between Barrington and Blanche. Picking through the fragments of new information, Ian tries to connect them with old clues involving Mark Thorne's suspicious suicide. There are just too many lies in a mystery where everyone is connected, where lawyers, society ladies and mysterious relatives keep secrets and twist the truth to suit themselves. Ian thinks about the miles he's driven, the people he's spoken to, and the doubts he's entertained--even after he escapes from a near death experience.
Though Todd's formulaic mystery offers nothing new, I think his story of a detective still at war with himself is powerful, even after 24 outings. At the center is Ian's determination to understand and his ability to see past a person and into their hearts. Truth is powerful, and his experiences help to show the peace it brings, despite the Great War's countless sorrows and regrets.