In his latest novel, bestselling author Charles Todd brings his classic mystery series to a new level of intensity and intrigue. The year is 1919, and Ian Rutledge is a fragile yet courageous former soldier searching for his place in a postwar world. Now a Scotland Yard investigator, Rutledge is called upon to probe a small-town murder -- and discovers that it may be connected to one of the greatest disasters of all time....
Watchers of Time
In Osterley, a marshy Norfolk backwater, a man lies dying on a rainy autumn night. While natural causes will surely claim Herbert Baker's life in a matter of hours, his last request baffles his family and friends.
Baker, a devout Anglican, inexplicably demands to see the town's Catholic priest for a last confession. The old man dies without knowing that the very priest who gave him comfort will follow him to the grave just a few weeks later -- the victim of an appalling murder.
The local police are convinced the evidence points to an interrupted robbery, and have named a suspect, Matthew Walsh. But the dead priest's bishop insists that Scotland Yard oversee the investigation. A simple task for Rutledge, a man not yet well enough to return to full duty.
The Inspector draws on years of experience and a war-honed intuition as he finds himself uncovering secrets that the local authorities would prefer not to see explored. Surely, they reason, it is better to charge an outsider -- Matthew Walsh -- with murder than to learn that someone in this tightly knit community would commit such a horrendous crime. And yet there are those, Rutledge soon discovers, who held grudges against the priest that had little to do with God or the Church.
No one in Osterley is aware that Rutledge hears voices -- or, rather, one haunting voice: that of a soldier he was forced to execute during the War. It is with the voice of Hamish MacLeod, by turns second-guessing and taunting him, that Rutledge begins a journey toward the devastating truth that will unlock the secrets of Osterley and pare away its layers of deception.
And in piecing together a different story, Rutledge encounters a chain of events that stretches from these brooding marshes to one of the greatest sea disasters in history -- the sinking of the Titanic. Who is the mysterious woman who may have boarded that ship ... and who is the secretive woman who survived it? Rutledge comes to believe that he alone can stop a killer from striking again.
Deftly capturing the anguish of a man haunted by his tragic past, Watchers of Time delves beneath a cast of unforgettable characters to examine a mystery even greater than murder: the mystery of what is right and what is wrong after the world has committed the sin of war.
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July 29, 2002
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Excerpt from Watchers Of Time (Inspector Ian Rutledge Series: #5) by Charles Todd
Osterley Dr. Stephenson turned away from the bed where the dying man lay breathing so lightly the blanket over his thin chest barely stirred. His bony, restless fingers plucking at the edge of the wool were the only signs of life and awareness. Twice the young woman sitting on the bed beside him had tried to still them, covering them with her own, but her father's hand picked up the silent tattoo again, like a drummer remembering his place, as soon as she released it. He had already frayed an inch of the binding. She gave up and sat back, sighing.
His face was grooved by illness, and a stubble of beard emphasized the lines, like a rough landscape of suffering below the sun-weathered skin of forehead and nose. Shaggy gray eyebrows hung heavily over the sunken lids. Age weighed him down, but there was a certain strength there as well, as if life had made him fight for all he had, and he had not forgotten the battles.
Catching the eyes of the man's sons, who were standing on the far side of the bed, faces in shadows cast by the scarf draped over the lamp's shade, the doctor nodded toward the window across the room, out of earshot of the patient. The young woman looked up as they moved away, but stayed where she was. She didn't want to hear what was being whispered.
Another gust of wind swept the front of the house, and rain was driven heavily against the panes, rattling them. The storm had stalled, as they sometimes did here along the coast, reluctant to move inland and lose itself in the hilly terrain there. For three hours or more it had hovered over the village, flailing everyone and everything out in the open.
The older of the two brothers bent his head to catch the words as Stephenson said softly, "He's moving comfortably and peacefully toward the end. There's nothing more I can do. But he might wish to have Mr. Sims here? And I should think your sister would be comforted as well."
Mr. Sims was the Vicar.
The younger brother answered, "Yes. I'll go for him, then." He went quietly across the room to the door. The scarf that shaded the lamp by the bed riffled as he passed, and the light flashed once across his face. There were wet trails of tears on his cheeks.
His sister reached out and briefly took his rough hand.
The other brother sighed. "He's had a long life, Pa has. But not that long. Sixty-four. We'd thought he'd be with us another five, ten years. His own father lived to just past eighty. And Uncle Tad's young for seventy-six." He shook his head.
"Your uncle Thadeus has the constitution of an ox," Stephenson agreed. "He may well outlive your grandfather's years. But your father's heart has given out, and his body must follow." He studied the grieving man's face, noting the deep lines of worry and sleeplessness. Hetty Baldwin, his housekeeper's daughter, was getting a good man in Martin Baker, the doctor told himself. Much like Herbert in character, God-fearing, with strong ties to his family and a fierce sense of duty. It was a sound match. "Everything happens in God's own time, you know. Even this. And it's a kindness that he won't linger." He spoke the words as comfort, then nodded toward the bed. "See if you can persuade Elly to rest a little. She's hardly stirred from his side since yesterday morning. We'll call her if there's any urgency. She will only wear herself into collapse, driving herself like this."
"I've tried, to no avail." Martin turned toward the window, lifting the curtain and pulling aside the shade a little to look out. Rain ran down the glass in rivulets, pushed against the house by the wind. A filthy night, he thought. A fitting night for death to come. . . . He dropped the shade back in place and said to Dr. Stephenson, "There's naught to be done to make it easier on her?"
"I'll leave something. A sleeping draught. Give it to Elly in a glass of water, when your father is gone. And, Martin, see that Dick doesn't insist on being one of the pallbearers. That shoulder of his is not fully healed, and the socket will never be as strong as it was. He's not out of the woods yet. He could still lose the arm if he's not careful. The army surgeons can't work miracles without a little help!"
"Good man!" A clap on Martin's shoulder for comfort, and then Stephenson walked back to the bed. He reached down and touched Elly's hands, folded tightly in her lap. They were cold, shaking. "Your father is comfortable. He would want you to be the same. Let Martin fetch you a shawl, at least."
She nodded, unable to reply. The gray head on the pillow moved, first to the right, then toward the left. Herbert Baker's eyes opened, and focused on his daughter's face. He said in a gravelly voice, "I want a priest."