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Review: A Matter of Justice, by Charles Todd

In 1920, a man, hated by everyone around him including his wife, is murdered in a tithe barn in Somerset. His body is found suspended from the rafters in a contraption used for the angel for local Christmas pageants. Inspector Ian Rutledge of the Scotland Yard is in the neighborhood to attend a wedding, and is called to the scene of the crime.

A Matter of Justice is the eleventh book in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series. The author is actually a mother and son writing team. From the get-go, I could tell that the authors are influenced by PD James's style. Rutledge is haunted by the ghost of his past, especially a dead lieutenant he fought with in the First World War who speaks to Rutledge in a faux-Scottish accent (I'm no expert, but do the Scots really say things like "yon?" Did the authors even speak Hamish's lines out loud as they were writing them?).

The authors tend to pepper their prose with Americanisms such as "bookstore" for "bookshop," and "family is" for "family are;" and they over-use British words such as lorry and flat. It's simply not convincing. The prose itself is memorable, but only because it leaves out key phrases and words and makes you feel as though you missed something along the way. Take this paragraph, for example: "He wasn't ready to confront the tangle of Hugh Jones and his family. But he walked there, and when nobody answered his knock, he let himself in." Obviously, the authors mean "walked to their house," but there's a word in there that needs to be modified in order for the paragraph to make sense.

Returning readers to the Ian Rutledge series will appreciate the fact that the authors don't repeat background information on the recurring characters. But if you're a first-time reader, be prepared to be very confused; at least, I was. I think I might have enjoyed the novel a bit more if a little more exposition had been given.

Rutledge is a little boring, truth be told, and he seems to muddle along until Hamish puts clues into his head. Too, the 1920s setting didn't really feel like the 1920s to me. Take away the Great War references, and you're left with a pretty average modern-day murder mystery a la PD James without the psychological complexity. I really wanted to like this book, but my reading of it got bogged down for the reasons mentioned above. The advertising blurb on the back of my ARC says that this book will be offered as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewer's program, so if my review hasn't totally turned you off from reading this book (as it shouldn't have), I recommend reading a few other books in the series for background information before jumping into A Matter of Justice. To be published December 30th 2008.


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