The Murder Stone begins in an isolated part of England called the Exe Valley in the autumn of 1916 while the Great War is still raging. Francesca Hutton watches sadly as her beloved grandfather, who raised her and her five male cousins after they were orphaned, slowly withers away and dies as one by one the tragic news of each cousin’s demise on various battlefields reaches them. But more surprises and shock lay in wait for poor Francesca. At the reading of the will, she gets startling information about her grandfather’s various properties. Then Richard Leighton, an ex-soldier who’s slowly dying, turns up at Francesca’s doorstep, accusing her grandfather of having kidnapped and/or murdered his mother. At first outraged by this slander on her grandfather’s reputation, Francesca is soon forced to investigate as she discovers more scandalous secrets about her grandfather.
What puzzles this intrepid young woman more than anything else is the strange codicil in her grandfather’s will, which bades her to transport the big white stone buried in the garden, popularly known as "The Murder Stone," to the farthest reaches of Scotland, where it is to be interred forever. Her emotions about her grandfather all torn up, feeling the burden of being all alone in this world with adversaries popping out of the woodwork and countless mysteries to solve, Francesca sets out in pursuit of the truth. If she finds it, will she be able to bear it?
When one begins reading author Charles Todd’s softly written, slowly-developed narrative, it doesn’t seem possible that this story could contain as many, if not more, punches and thrills as any bestselling thriller set in current times. While this book doesn’t deal with secrets that have global consequences, what happens does have an equivalent effect on the residents of the isolated Exe valley. The Murder Stone is all about human beings, their frailties, and a proclivity for secrets, greatly enhanced by characters who come alive through the lyrical yet simple prose. Perceptive and intelligent, the story lures the reader into a bygone era and, without many gory observations, expresses the tense atmosphere of war, its consequent casualties and suffering, and unexpected (at times, unwanted) change. Exe Valley is beautifully brought to life, through its people, surroundings and settings. The trials of Francesca in her quest for the truth hold the reader in thrall. The story has more than one mystery embedded within, and the beautifully maintained suspense increases until the very end. Even then, the solution comes as an absolute shock. Charles Todd has created such a meticulous and stylish mystery that it’s a must-read for every book lover who appreciates quality.