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The Murder Stone    by Charles Todd order for
Murder Stone
by Charles Todd
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I opened The Murder Stone, happily anticipating my first meeting with Inspector Ian Rutledge and his ghostly companion Hamish. Instead, I was disappointed to find a standalone gothic mystery set in the World War I period.

The year is 1916. Young Francesca Hatton has lost her five male cousins to the war, and now the beloved grandfather (Francis Hatton) who raised all the children after their parents' deaths, has also succumbed. Francesca inherits the isolated Exe Valley family estate in Devon. She barely has time to grieve when a series of shocking revelations are thrown at her. The first, and most serious, comes from a damaged (possibly dying) officer, Richard Leighton, who accuses Francis Hatton of his mother Victoria's murder, and hounds Francesca's every step, determined to discover her family's secrets before his own death.

Francesca wonders why her grandfather kept from her his ownership of properties in Somerset and Essex, one of which is being claimed by a previous owner. It is difficult for her to reconcile her own memories of a loving, compassionate grandfather with the facts that gradually come to light, and she needs to know more. She is especially concerned about a last request from Francis Hatton, that she dispose of the 'Murder Stone' far from their estate. This is an unusual white stone in the garden, that was central to childhood war games involving all six children.

Interspersed with the unfolding of the mystery are intriguing flashbacks, from the point of view of Francesca's cousins, that shed new perspectives on events, and share additional memories of the 'Murder Stone'. Further complicating the plot are burglaries, intruders, and a mysterious sniper in the neighborhood. Francesca's initial dislike of Richard gradually turns to liking, but she wonders why he reminds her so much of her grandfather. Then someone believed dead turns up very much alive and dangerous, and Francesca shows an iron resolution (and a likeness to her grandfather) in protecting those she loves.

Though I found the mystery a little disjointed, I enjoyed The Murder Stone for its excellent depiction of the horrors of the Great War, its impact on the survivors, and the losses to the future of the talents of all who died.

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