Book Review: ‘Proof of Guilt’ by Charles Todd

Proof of Guilt

Title: Proof of Guilt: An Inspector Rutledge Mystery

Author(s): Mother & Son duo, Charles and Caroline Todd.

Publisher: William Morrow, Harper Collins Imprint

Publication date: 29th January 2013

Paperback: 352 pages

Where to read this book? With Blue Monday over and done with it’s time to book holidays, so take this book off to Portugal and read it in the sunshine (with the refreshments advised below).

Refreshments: To drink thanks to the topic of Portugal specifically Madeira, fortified wines are on the table and in the glass. To eat the only accompaniement I can think of and would want is cheese, and hard cheese at that!


It’s London, Summer 1920 and an unidentified body appears on a street in Chelsea apparently run over by a motorcar. Detective Ian Rutledge is leading the investigation to uncover what happened. A pocket watch leads Rutledge to a company built by two families, famous for producing and selling the world’s best Madeira wine. Lewis French, the current head of the English enterprise, is missing. But is he the dead man? And do either his fiancée or his jilted former lover have anything to do with his disappearance – or possible death? Is Matthew Traynor, French’s cousin and partner who heads the Madeira office, somehow involved – but then he’s missing too? When Rutledge discovers a link to an incident in the French family’s past, the superintendent dismisses it, claiming the information isn’t vital. Acting alone Rutledge must tread very carefully, for someone has decided that he, too, must die so that cruel justice can take its course.

This is one of the first detective stories I’ve read in a while and the historical backdrop of post-WW1 London filled me with confidence that it would deliver. Unfortunately this was not to be the case. The story wanders erratically through multiple generations of French & Traynors, characters flash by, story lines started and are left unfinished, relationships unexplained, resulting in a detective running rampant around the south of England, presumably with his own supply of petrol on tap and the fastest car known to mankind.

One of the major irritants of this story is the Rutledge’s ghostly sidekick Hamish. A soldier he was forced to order to be shot for disobedience, he resides in Rutledge’s head and is a constant source of advice. Unfortunately Hamish is also given a dialect. Although this additional character serves to reflect post-WW1 trauma and the difficulties faced transferring from the front lines back into civilian life the theme isn’t developed enough and generally is superfluous to requirements.

Another character that is deeply flawed for no discernable reason is Rutledge’s new boss at Scotland Yard, a Yorkshire man, a comment often cited one can guess to reflect geological stereotypes. He has risen to the dizzy heights in the police force only to be written into presuming the guilty is a woman who is vaguely associated with the firm based on the evidence of handkerchief.

The ending to make matters even worse is hurried and slapdash, one of the key bodies in the whole melodrama is missing and never found, alas it isn’t even mentioned that the person is question is even dead or alive. The evidence doesn’t make sense, the story never builds any sense of urgency and the resolution in the last few pages is frustratingly vague.

Rating: 3 out of 10


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