In A Lonely Death, Inspector Ian Rutledge is attending the funeral of his war friend, Maxwell Hume when he gets a message from Scotland Yard to proceed with some haste to the village of Eastfield just above Hastings. It’s a matter of some urgency: a cold-blooded murder has "turned Eastfield on its ear." Three men
- a farmer, a dairyman, and the son of a brewer - have been killed, all of them savagely garroted. Although the men were alone at the time, Constable Walker of the Eastfield Constabulary informs Rutledge
that they were all of the same age and had all fought in France.
As Rutledge meets the family and friends of the deceased and learns to see the dead through their eyes, he sees that the very fabric of Eastfield is being torn apart by such an outrage. The quiet village seldom produces violence of any kind,
and the majority of the villagers are absolutely horrified at the brutality of
the deaths. The illusion of ordinary lives has been shattered, a peaceful future undoubtedly crushed.
Rutledge's only clue to the brutal crimes: the discovery of three flat fiberboard discs placed in the victim's mouths. Used in the war to identify the dead and wounded, the discs were stamped in layers of compressed wood fibers and worn around the neck on a thin length of rope. But the war has been over for nearly two years; why would such a disc be placed in the mouth of a murder victim?
The wounds of the Great War still pulse for the Inspector. Haunted by the relentless and unforgiving voice of Hamish McLeod (the closest thing he had to a friend during the darkest hours of the Somme offensive), Rutledge finds himself distracted by the needs of Meredith Channing even as he's blamed by the Scotland Yard
chiefs for lack of progress in the murder enquiry.
Unexpectedly finding himself the butt of gossip and speculation fuelled by his arch-nemesis, Chief Superintendent Bowles, Rutledge is drawn to Inspector Cummins’s strange tale of an unsolved murder
at Stonehenge on Midsummer's Eve, 1905. Tracking down a possible a connection, Rutledge is surprised when Daniel Pierce’s name keeps cropping up. Missing for a few weeks, Daniel was the younger brother of one of the murdered men. Rutledge is sure Daniel is
connected in some other way to the victims, especially after he interviews husky-voiced Mrs. Farrell-Smith, the officious headmistress of The Misses Tate Latin School, who hides her furtive passions behind a brittle façade of respectability.
Although Todd's story moves slowly at times, the pacing is as methodical as Rutledge’s search for old hurts and bitter animosities as he gradually unfolds the pain of Eastfield’s broken lives. The unhappy schoolyard taunting of a child is exposed when Rutledge learns that wealthy sons of brewery owners were mixing with crude sons of working-class farmers.
The tranquil back gardens and barnyards of Hastings and the precincts of Eastfield’s local Pierce Brewery form an unusual and unlikely backdrop for a new kind of evil.
Tying bloodlust and the thrill of stalking to long-buried memories, vicious crimes are truly a measure of how long someone must wait for retribution.
The novel shudders toward its shocking conclusion, the ever-dependent Rutledge finding himself hijacked from all sides. Continuing to do battle with his war-torn demons, Rutledge must unravel a fractured past that quite possibly led to the shocking deaths of these poor, innocent men.