Review: Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd

Posted February 7, 2013 by in Book Reviews / 13 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher / TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Proof of Guilt by Charles ToddProof of Guilt (Inspector Ian Rutledge #15) by Charles Todd
Published by William Morrow on January 29, 2013
Genres: Crime Fiction, Fiction, Mystery
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: the publisher / TLC Book Tours

Goodreads | Amazon

London, summer 1920. An unidentified body appears to have been run down by a motorcar and Ian Rutledge is leading the investigation to uncover what happened. While the signs point to murder, vital questions remain: Who is the victim? And where, exactly, was he killed?

One small clue leads Rutledge to a firm 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 does either his fiancée or his jilted former lover have anything to do with his disappearance--or possible death? What about his sister? Or the London office clerk? Is Matthew Traynor, French's cousin and partner who heads the Madeira office, somehow involved?

The experienced Rutledge knows that suspicion and circumstantial evidence are not proof of guilt, and he's going to keep digging for answers. But that perseverance will pit him against his supervisor, the new acting chief superintendent. When Rutledge discovers a link to an incident in the French family's past, the superintendent dismisses it, claiming the information isn't vital. He's determined to place the blame on one of French's women despite Rutledge's objections. Alone in a no-man's-land rife with mystery and danger, Rutledge must tread very carefully, for someone has decided that he, too, must die so that cruel justice can take its course.

(from the inside flap)

When I accepted this book for review, I hadn’t read anything by Charles Todd before and I didn’t realize that Proof of Guilt is #15 in a long line of Ian Rutledge mysteries. Thankfully, the book reads well as a stand-alone (as I’ll bet the rest of the mysteries do, too), but I do wonder if I would have gotten more out of it or would have been more into it if I had been a long-time reader of the series.

As the description of Proof of Guilt relates above, the story takes place in London and surrounding areas in 1920. A man is found dead on a London road, presumably having been hit by a car, but the clues (or lack thereof) point to a more complicated murder. Ian Rutledge is an inspector for Scotland Yard and the case is given to him to solve.

Over the past year or so, I have found that I really enjoy reading mysteries set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There’s something about that time period that makes for good crime fiction–I think it might be that the inspectors really have to use their minds and their instincts to solve crimes because they lack a lot of the technological advances that we rely on today. I enjoyed Proof of Guilt as a 1920’s crime fiction novel, but I didn’t like it as much as some others that I’ve read.

Ian Rutledge is an interesting character, but I’m sure I would have connected with him more if I had been reading about him from the beginning of the series. He’s got this…issue…that is explained well enough in Proof of Guilt to get readers by, but that I wish I knew more about (especially since it seems that this issue helps him solve the crimes he’s assigned to). There were also mentions of past relationships and occurrences in Ian’s life that I think would have made me more sympathetic to him had I been reading this series all along.

As for the mystery itself, it is…okay. I love a good mystery, and I love being legitimately stumped by the author (I’m usually really good at figuring things out early on). Proof of Guilt definitely had me stumped until the end, but mainly because I was just really confused. There is so much going on in the story, and there are so many characters, that I felt like the author’s purpose in this book was to stump readers through confusion. There were missing people and siblings and illegitimate children (maybe) and half-siblings and friends of siblings/half-siblings…and I couldn’t keep track of everyone and how they related to the missing/dead man. A lot of it didn’t seem to make sense to me, and I don’t think that is a legitimate way for an author to make a mystery hard to solve. But I also wonder if I would have been less confused had I read more of the series beforehand. I don’t know.

And the ending kind of annoyed me. Not everything gets wrapped up neatly, which is fine in some cases, but one major part of the story didn’t get wrapped up in this case. Let me rephrase that: When the mystery is wrapped up, the reader knows what happened to one of the missing characters in the story, but neither Ian Rutledge nor anyone else in the story mentions anything about this missing character again before the book ends. That’s just…weird. This character has been the main focus the entire book, but his continued disappearance isn’t mentioned by the inspector himself at the end of the book. The way the reader finds out what happened to this particular character is a little odd, too. The admission is given in one or two sentences in the middle of an action scene, and then it’s never mentioned again. It’s like the author thought, I’m going to put this right….here…and let it go at that. I don’t want to spend more time writing it all out. It just seems highly unrealistic to me that the inspector who has spent the entire book looking for this particular character (or his dead body) would let that part of the mystery go so nonchalantly in the end. No way.

With all of that said, I am still willing to give the series a chance. I liked the author’s writing style and I’m intrigued by Ian Rutledge; I’m interested to know more of his backstory and I’d like to read more about the way he solves mysteries before I make too many final judgments. Internet research shows that a lot of people enjoy the Ian Rutledge mysteries, so I’m thinking this just wasn’t the right one for me to read first. I’ll definitely be borrowing more of them from the library.

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  • jenn aka the picky girl

    The publisher sent this to me (unsolicited), and I was so excited because I love the Bess Crawford series. I started it and then life got crazy busy…

    It’s rainy today, though, so maybe I’ll pick it back up again. Sorry it was problematic, but you might try Bess Crawford. She’s just great.

    • I will definitely try those, too. I really like the way they write. Thanks!

  • I don’t enjoy reading books that are series books with independent stories as much as I enjoy reading real series books. And it would bug me too if things didn’t get wrapped up in the end. But it does sound like you found some value in the book anyway!

  • Jean Christensen

    I have not yet found the page, or sentence that tells me what happened to the main character in the “Proof of Guilt”. Would someone please tell me which sentence or page to find the answer. I have read the ending of this book at least 5 times and still do not know what happened to Lewis Fench.

    • We find out on page 339, from Baxter. The admission starts with “Baxter misunderstood.”

      • Glorian

        Thanks! I also couldn’t figure out what happened to Lewis French. I misinterpreted the “Baxter misunderstood” paragraph. I thought it was referring to Mr. Bennett’s location (in Mrs. Bennett’s garden). How stupid of me!

        • Not stupid at all–the whole book was pretty confusing, unfortunately.

        • LoriM

          I thought it was Mr. Bennett, too. So where’s he?? : )

      • Steven

        What about the very last sentence of the book? That leads us to believe it’s Mr. Bennett in the roses.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour!

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