Top positive review
Excellent writing - but with a weird ending!
Reviewed in the United States on May 9, 2021
WATCHERS OF TIME refers to an ancient sculpture in Lord Sedgwick's garden: It is a disturbing likeness of several apes who are "witnesses to what man and Gods may do." What this work of art has to do with criminal incidents will be clarified by the end. A well beloved priest is brutally murdered in his rectory - a Monsignor is sent by the bishop to investigate and is stricken with a sense of evil at the crime scene. A carnival performer is accused of the killing; but the Monsignor is not convinced of his guilt and Scotland Yard will be contacted to ensure that the right person has been caught. Rutledge, who has just recovered from a near death experience in Scotland, is sent to investigate and is hopeful that this will be a straightforward assignment. It is anything but routine as Rutledge is soon to find out.
He goes in search of village people to question: some willing, some not, but a copious amount of tea drinking will smooth the rough edge of Rutledge's interviews. The narrative showed promise. It was consistently well paced until the ending when it fell apart.
For me, the mysteries have always been secondary to the prime character of Ian Rutledge which grabs me and doesn't let go. After serving in the Great War, his PTSD is quite severe, having executed one of his own men for disobeying an order. The order was to send out men to certain death which the corporal could not do. The spirit of Hamish McLeod has now become permanently rooted in Rutledge's psyche and the two will carry on silent chats with each other. Ian is a tricky multilayered character: besides the enduring guilt of Hamish's execution, he cannot come to terms with the idealistic young policeman he was before the war and is persistently haunted by his survival although many did not. Fortunately, he is able to compartmentalize his various struggles (most of the time) and does appear to be an active Scotland Yard investigator.
The overall emphasis for the series has been the impact of the Great War on the people of England and the staggering losses of young men - always mentioned in the narratives are the loss of a husband, brother, son or friends. Especially distressing is the plight of Peter Henderson, who served in the army as a sniper killing many Germans. But, as Rutledge pointed out he saved the lives of many British soldiers as a result. The townspeople have chosen to ostracize him for his wartime activity. It is through the kindness of the clergy that he is able to survive.
The writing is excellent - the plot was absorbing until the end. It was too quick and left me to grapple with an impossible conclusion. It is remarkable that it was through the efforts of the clergy, that they did not just "witness what man and Gods may do" similar to the ape sculpture, but they were able to observe and intervene to ferret out the truth.
For a more profound experience of this era, I would recommend Sebastian Faulks' incredible BIRDSONG , which will take you deep into the trenches of the Great War and the continuing trauma for one soldier.