Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd


Proof of Guilt by Charles Todd
Copyright 2013
William Morrow - Historical Fiction/Mystery
343 pp.

It's probably a very bad idea to start reading a mystery series so late in the game.  Proof of Guilt is apparently #14 in the Ian Rutledge series.  I used to read out of order all the time, back when I was a regular mystery reader, though; and, I wanted to give mother-son writing team Charles Todd a second chance after the disappointment of The Walnut Tree (which I still believe was simply rushed to press without a decent attempt at editing).

Proof of Guilt is a bit twisty without every becoming an utterly confusing story.  It is 1920.  A body has been discovered but the man appears not to have died at the location where he was discovered. Tucked inside the coat is a very distinctive and obviously expensive watch.  There's no identification on the body and when Inspector Rutledge takes the watch to a jeweler, he finds that it is, indeed, an expensive family heirloom.  However, the body in question is not that of the watch owner and the man who does own the watch is missing.

There are a lot of things going on in Proof of Guilt.  There is a new man in charge and Rutledge doesn't have a great deal of respect for him.  There is a body, a missing man, a broken engagement, a connection to Spain and another body that doesn't appear to have any relation to the story in question until late in the book.  Inspector Rutledge may be a continuing character but near as I can tell, not many years can have passed during the scope of this series.  He served in WWI and suffers from PTSD, the ghost of a man he was forced to shoot for insubordination still haunting him, the claustrophobia and the occasional shaking/sweating episode ever-present.  Having perused reviews of a few earlier books (I chose to avoid reading any reviews of Proof of Guilt so that my feelings about it would remain untouched), I can see that not much has changed.

And, therein the problem lies.  There was just something missing from this book.  Well, several somethings, actually.  First, there are loads of characters without apparent distinguishing characteristics. Hamish, the man who haunts Rutledge, is well-described (at least, inasmuch as the reason the inspector is haunted) but the vast majority of the men Rutledge works with are not.  So, they all tend to blur together.  It's hard to determine who they all are and their working relationships with Rutledge. But, in fact, Rutledge also doesn't seem to want to have much to do with anyone but his sister -- and she only shows up briefly.  So, the book is strongly lacking in emotion and meaningful interaction.  It's all mystery and little heart, in other words.

As to the mystery itself, I found it convoluted enough that it wasn't completely predictable.  There were scenes that I found transparent but the ending itself surprised me.  Would it have surprised me if I was a regular mystery reader?  I can't say.

Here's how I felt about the book, as the reading progressed:

Beginning:  Meh.  Having trouble getting into it.  Seemed like there was a lot of uncomfortable pummeling with questions but otherwise the dialogue was stilted and unrealistic. Nice light reading, though; apart from dialogue, the writing was smooth.
About 1/3 in:  Still no grip on any of the secondary characters but I was becoming accustomed to the rhythm of the story and not tempted to set the book aside.  Definitely better-edited than The Walnut Tree.
Halfway:  Too many characters and no idea where the hell the plot was going.  Also, were inspectors at Scotland Yard really that incompetent?  The thought processes of various people investigating seemed quite off to me.
80-90% in:  There were at least 5 characters whose last names began with the letter "B".  Keeping names easily distinguishable by using different letters is a basic of writing.  I was kind of stunned.  But, I was really enjoying the story, by this point, and just kept flipping back to try to keep the characters straight.
90% in:  Seriously?  Did they arrest people and threaten to hang them without even discovering the body of a missing person?  Still curious what would happen, though.
Ending:  Totally pissed off.  There was an answer to the mystery but no wrap-up.  The book simply ended . . . and, in fact, there was even a line to tease the reader into buying the next book.  At 80-95% in, I was beginning to rethink my aversion to mysteries and considering reading more by Charles Todd.  The ending blew that concept out of the water.  I cannot bear being teased by an author.  That is it for me.  No more Charles Todd books.

Having said all that, I did enjoy this book.  It took some time and I never felt emotionally invested in the story, but had the book been properly wrapped up I would have loved it.  It went from being a 4.5-star book at about 90% (in spite of many problems) to a 3-star because of the way it ended.  That's a pretty huge deduction for a crummy ending, but that's how I felt when I closed the book.

Recommended only to regular mystery readers who enjoy this author's writing.  A decent mystery but the lackluster characterization and a terrible ending ruined this book for me.

My thanks to TLC Tours for the advance reader's edition of Proof of Guilt.  I am glad I gave this author a second chance, regardless of how I felt upon closing the book.

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

15 comments:

  1. Oh, no this one is definitely not for me! I can see just why you were frustrated with it, and would have hated to get so invested only to be dropped like that into a chasm of a bad ending. Your review was wonderfully and intriguingly written, and has convinced me that Todd is not for me!!

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    1. They seem to have a pretty decent following, so I hope I won't dissuade too many people from at least giving Charles Todd a try, but yeah . . . as you say, one invests time in a book and should expect a decent wrap-up. I liked the book but the ending was definitely frustrating.

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    2. I LOVE the Bess Crawford series, even though I didn't start it from the beginning...but there are only 4 of those so far. And, I'm not kidding here, even though both books are written by the same mother-son team, I felt like I was reading a completely different writer in Proof of Guilt...one who was all over the place and almost left a draft of random thoughts rather than a well developed novel.

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    3. Oh, that's good to know. I'm not sure I'm willing to try another Charles Todd, at the moment, but maybe I will give them another chance . . . someday. I agree; it was all over the place. I found myself wanting a map, as well. All that hopping around from one town to another and not knowing exactly where he was going was problematic. I have a couple maps of England (road atlas and a fold-out map) but Lord knows which box they're in.

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  2. Sorry this one was so disappointing. I used to read so many mysteries. Not so much any more. :-( I love your break down review. I might have to try something similar.

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    1. I still maintain it was worth a try. I don't feel like my life was shortened for having taken the time to read it. LOL Yes, I used to read mysteries almost exclusively, myself. At some point, I simply burned out.

      I'm glad you liked that summary of how I felt throughout the reading. It was a nice change of pace, writing that up. :)

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  3. There is no way that I would try a series that far out of order - at least not knowingly! Maybe some of the things lacking for you would have been known had you read the earlier books. Then again, maybe they wouldn't have been!

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    1. I didn't realize I was *that* far into a series till I looked up the first book to see when it was written. There were undoubtedly descriptions of characters in earlier books that would have helped.

      Remember the Cat Who mystery series? I read that from about 2/3 in -- just read one way into the series and liked it so much that I went back to the beginning and read through. There were gaps filled in by reading the earlier books, but the novel itself was such a nicely written book that it lured me into reading the entire series. So, I know a mystery in the middle of a series can be written well enough that it's complete on its own -- and certainly that teaser ending was not necessary. But, yeah, there are always things that happen in earlier books which authors refer back to. In general, that doesn't bother me a bit.

      I'm still glad I read it. I think the actual writing is pretty good - meaning it's smoothly written; it has a nice flow. Since I liked that about The Walnut Tree and hoped it was just poorly edited (it was), I really wanted to give Charles Todd a second try. No regrets. The author isn't for me, but at least I know that for sure!

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    2. I don't think I would have read this one if I had realized it was #14. Next time, I'll be sure to look. I honestly had a difficult time finding good things to say about this one.

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    3. I probably would have read it, even if I'd known it was #14, since I used to do that all the time. Whether or not the author is successful at making a story complete in spite of its place in a series varies pretty dramatically, though, and it's a gamble starting out so late in a series.

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  4. I loved the first ones in this series, but not all of the later ones. I'll still probably read this one...if I can find it at the library.

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    1. If you enjoy the series, I think it's worth reading. I did notice that someone said this particular plot had been used, before. I assume that means they've written something similar. I liked the mystery, itself. Just not the fact that the characters were so lifeless and indistinguishable and . . . that ending.

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  5. Oh, I'm so glad I'm not the only one. I was pissed at the end as well...but bc I'd spent so much time on this one book that never panned out for me.

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    1. I was okay with the conclusion, apart from the lack of wrap-up and that teaser ending, but I know what you mean.

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  6. Darn, I'm sorry that this one didn't completely work for you, but thanks for your review for the tour!

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