“Todd once and for all establishes the shell-shocked Rutledge as the genre’s most complex and fascinating detective.”—Entertainment Weekly
The Confession is historical crime fiction at its finest, continuing Charles Todd’s New York Times bestselling mystery series featuring severely damaged British World War I veteran, and yet still astonishingly efficient Scotland Yard inspector, Ian Rutledge. Todd’s troubled investigator wrestles with a startling and dangerous case that reaches far into the past when a false confession from a man who is not who he claims to be leads to a brutal murder. The Confession is a must-read for every fan of Elizabeth George, Martha Grimes, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, and Jacqueline Winspear, as post-war London’s best detective finds himself ensnared in a dark and deadly investigation that unearths shocking small town secrets dating back more than a century.
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By Charles Todd
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2012 Charles Todd
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The Essex Marshes, Summer 1915
The body rolled in the current gently, as if still alive. It was face down, only the back and hips visible. It had been floating that way for some time. The men in the ancient skiff had watched it for a quarter of an hour, as if half expecting it to rise up and walk away before their eyes.
"He's dead, right enough," one said. "One of ours, do you think?" "This far up the Hawking? It's a German spy," the second man said, nodding, as if that explained everything. "Bound to be. I say, leave him to the fish."
"We won't know who he is until we pull him out, will we?" the third said and leaned out to touch the corpse with the boat hook.
"Here!" the first man cried out, as if this were sacrilege.
The body bobbed a little under the weight of the hook.
"He doesn't care," the third man said. "Why should you?"
"Still and all -"
Turning the hook a little, he put the end under the dead man's collar and pulled. Under the impetus of the hook, the corpse came out of the reeds obediently, as if called, and floated toward the skiff until the shoulder of his dark, water sodden uniform bumped lightly into the hull.
"A bloody officer."
"He's been shot," the third man said as the body shifted. "Look at that."
"Turn him over," the second man ordered, after peering at the back of the man's head.
With some difficulty, that was done, and all three stared into the dead face, flaccid from hours in the water.
"None of our fishermen," the second man went on. "Don't know him at all. You?"
The first man shook his head. "I dunno. There's something familiar about him. I just can't put a name to him."
"Let's have a look," the third man said, and reached out to clutch the front of the sodden uniform, pulling him close enough to thrust his fingers into the man's breast pocket. He came away with a wallet stuffed with pound notes. He whistled in surprise.
The second man was already stretching out a hand for the trouser pocket nearest him, swearing as the skiff dipped alarmingly, and he had to kneel in the bottom of the boat. As the skiff steadied, he managed to dig into the wet cloth and extract more pound notes.
"I'll be damned!"
Opening the wallet, the third man searched for identification. "Ah." He pulled out a card from behind the wet notes. Squinting a little, he read, " 'Justin Fowler. London.' What's he doing here, dead, then?"
"I told you. A German spy."
"You've got spies on the brain," the third man snapped. "Get over it."
There had been a spy scare not long before. Several waiters in London restaurants bore German names, and it was reported to the authorities that these men had been listening to private conversations while guests dined, looking for information to be sent back to Berlin. Nothing had come of it, as far as anyone in this part of Essex could discover. Mr. Newly had not been back to the city to visit his daughter, and thus the source of this bit of news had dried up before the spies had been arrested, shot, or deported, allowing for considerable speculation in The Rowing Boat at night. Much had been said about what should be done with such men if they were caught out here, far from London. "Who do you suppose killed him?" the first man ventured. "Someone who followed him from London? It's not likely to have been anyone from the airfield. I've never seen them this far upriver."
"Most likely whoever shot him shoved him into the water. Out of sight, out of mind." The third man counted the wet notes a second time. "There's almost a hundred pounds here!"
"Flotsam and jetsam," the second man said. "We found it, we keep it. Like a shipwreck." He gazed round at the desolate sweep of water and marsh and gray sky as if half expecting to see a ship's hull half sunk in the deeper reaches beyond.
It was an unfortunate reference. They knew, all of them, what a shipwreck could lead to.
"What do we do with Mr. Fowler?" the first man asked dubiously. "If we bring him in, we'll have to summon the police. Someone is bound to want to know what's become of his money."
"Tow him out to sea. Let him wash ashore somewhere else," the third man said, scrabbling in the bottom of the skiff for a length of rope. This he proceeded to loop around the dead man's neck and then he ordered, "Pick up yon oars. I can't row and pull at the same time, now can I?"
The first man sat where he was. "We're towing him nowhere until there's some understanding here. The money is evenly divided."
"I saw him first," the second man ventured. "Finder's fee."
"The hell with that," the third man retorted. "Share and share alike, I say. And then there's no room for one of us to feel denied and start trouble. We're all in this together. If one must hang, we'll all hang." "If I walk home today with this much money in my pocket, my wife will ask questions. What do I say, then?" the first man demanded.
"She'll start the trouble, mark my words."
"Then don't march home with the money stuffed in your pocket, you fool. Put it by and use it a little at a time. You don't go waving it about first thing. Think of your old age, or your daughter's wedding, when a bit of the ready will come in handy. This poor devil doesn't need pounds wherever he's gone to, and it's a sheer waste to let the sea have it. We've done nothing wrong, have we? We didn't kill him, we didn't leave him here to be found by a schoolboy looking to fish for his dinner, we just took what he'd got no use for. Simple as that."
Half persuaded, the first man said, "Still, I've never kept a secret from my wife. That'll take some doing." He picked up his oar from the bottom of the skiff and put it in the water.
The third man laughed. "You've never needed to lie before. Now there's a reason."
They began to pull against the incoming tide, heading for the mouth of the inlet, towing the body behind them. The first man scanned the shoreline as they passed.
"I don't see anyone about, looking this way. Do you think they can see what's at the end of the rope?"
"It just appears that we've forgot to bring the rope inboard."
"What if he comes back again?" the first man asked, glancing over his shoulder. He was finding it a struggle to row against the current with that sluggish weight pulling at the rope attached to it.
"He won't," the third man promised. "He hasn't been in the water all that long. You can tell, the fishes haven't truly got at him yet. But they will. And no one will be the wiser."
But there he was wrong.
Excerpted from The Confession by Charles Todd. Copyright © 2012 by Charles Todd. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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