A Fatal Lie opens with Chief Superintendent Markham arguing with Inspector Rutledge when sudden activity erupts in the Yard. The team are asked to take charge of an inquiry into the death of a man found in the River Dee, Wales. Rutledge is ordered to head west, deep into the heart of the Welsh countryside. After traveling through a succession of small towns, Rutledge happens upon the Telford Aqueduct. Looking up at the graceful dark red brick that towers far above his head, Rutledge thinks about the dead man, Roddy Macnab. Macnab clearly fell from the Aqueduct, and Rutledge guesses he was in the Dee for two or three days.
Fast on the trail of clues, Rutledge spies the unique label on Macnab's shirt. Other than the boutique clothing, the body bears no watch or ring or chain. The body was badly damaged, in the river too long. Rutledge walks to the very top section of the gray cast iron aqueduct, certain that the killer waited to make his move until he was certain his victim would go into the river.
The aqueduct is spectacular. Made of slate, good quarry stone, and graceful dark red brick, it provides a spectacular backdrop to Todd's ever-deepening mystery that is once again shaped around Rutledge's ongoing relationship with Corporal Hamish MacLeod, who lies buried in the black mud of Flanders. Rutledge's nights are long at the tavern in the village just below the aqueduct. He's been having more frequent nightmares. Hamish is increasingly drawing him back to the war, filling him with guilt, despair, and longing, along with the smells of the trenches--and of the dead.
Though the flood of memories is always present, there's still a murder to solve. Ian must not only solve the mystery of McNab's bantam tattoo, given to the Bantam Battalion, stationed in France, but also the identity of someone called Banner. And why was McNab's wife, Ruth Milford, in Llangollen even though she lived in Shopshire? The village where McNab was found was only a handful of miles away from the Welsh village.
Rutledge goes through the motions of solving the case, trying to get a handle as best he can on whether McNab's murder is linked to Ruth's untruths and to a shady solicitor who refuses to tell the detective about McNab's past. There are just too many inconsistencies, and the suspects themselves are mostly dispassionate, cold and distant from each other and with Ian himself. A raft of possibile connections present themselves: the missing child, Tildy; the motivations of Ruth's cousin, Nan; Ruth blaming herself for what happened to her husband; and the man outside the tailor shop in Llangollen--Samuel Milford, attractive, broad-shouldered and straight-backed. Ian also discovers that the uniform Samuel was wearing was indeed that of the Bantams.
The city of Chester has a long history of river trade and industry. Ian surmises that if McNab's killer was a narrowboat man, it's likely that he met his victim close to that particular canal. As the past careens toward the present, a reckoning awaits Ruth, Nan, and especially Tildy that culminates in an emotional rollercoaster ride as Rutledge goes on a life-and-death chase through the wild Welsh countryside.
Always entertaining (though perhaps a bit formulaic by now), Todd fills the pages with eccentric suspects from the cottages and village shops in this ancient landscape. A haunted figure with only his headlamps to guide him, Rutledge always seems grateful to be driving the lonely roads. Something about the Welsh wilds feels like home, a panacea for Hamish's ever-present ghost. Rutledge possesses such strength and resilience that it's not hard to root for him once again.