Duty calls in 1921 London and Wiltshire. Detective Ian Rutledge is called by Chief Inspector Brian Leslie to Avebury. In front of the standing circle stones weathered into various shapes lies the body of a black-haired woman in a nice dress. It could be easy to pass off the woman's murder as an accident when there are no witnesses to say otherwise. Leslie's mind is filled with images he can't stop thinking about: "the sheet-covered body on a table in that wretched little room," the woman's face still and cold in death. Leslie's "ringing tide of guilt" is so powerful that he can't remember how he got there.
Rutledge has barely recovered enough from his own war when Chief Super Markham tells him that there's also been a nasty murder in Shopeshire, and Ian must see what he "can make of it." A parish sexton digging a grave in the late afternoon has discovered a woman's body. Even in his shock, the sexton realized that she was dead and had surely been murdered. Rutledge travels to the village of Tern Bridge, instructing Constable Leigh to question everyone who might have traveled out of the village, either to local markets or farther afield.
The trail takes Ian to Bath and into the orbit of Inspector Graves. Ian hopes that he can tie the body to a woman who went missing three days ago. Stymied, he turns to loyal Sergeant Gibson. There's a woman in London Ian needs to find; she's not a suspect, but she might be the victim. What if it wasn't romance that brought the woman to Avebury, but fear or anger? Why, then, would she let herself be lured to this isolated place where she would be vulnerable? Perhaps it was jealousy and she had threatened to make a scene.
Similar to the previous Rutledge mysteries, the procedural elements in A Divided Loyalty are engrossing, but the narrative is also meticulous, moving slowly from place to person, from person to place. With this case, too, Ian must deal with his own problems at home and at work. The most likely explanation for the churchyard murder was that she was killed elsewhere and the killer left her as far from the scene as possible--where most likely she wouldn't be easily identified. With no weapon and no clues, there's nothing to put a name to her slaughterer.
As usual, Ian is helped in the case by the ghost of Hamish MacLeod. Ian remembers the many dead he's sent into battle. He's been tormented by memories of the darkness and stench, as well as Hamish's voice that refused to fade with the Armistice. The voice in Ian's head has been present since the summer of 1916 and the battle of the Somme.
Ten miles beyond London, the fog shreds and vanishes. Rain follows until Rutledge crosses into Wiltshire. There's hardly any lights from the village houses; the stones themselves come across as ominous, undefined shapes. Ian can see why Mrs. Parrish, the local villager, feared them. Everything centers on the hooded stone. To Ian it seems surreal in the gray light, a great figure whose veiled, shrouded head is bowed as if in sorrow. Its arms look as though they're about the reach out and offer shelter. The mystery culminates on Silbury Hill, where lies beyond the Long Barrow. Like the line of stones, the Barrow guards its chamber, "a stark cluster misshapen and sinister in the light."
In a tale where death and destruction have crept into Rutledge's life, details are important, and so is silence: silence between the mountains, silence between the villagers and the silence that allows the mystery to grow. From Leslie's secrets to the war that changed Ian, Todd's tale explores the burdens of memory and a man forever haunted by a love affair that had no future.