By: Simon Tolkien
A complex mystery of deception and betrayal that follows the court case of a young man set to hang for the murder of his father When a famed Oxford historian is found dead in his study one night, all evidence points to his son, Stephen. About to be disinherited from the family fortune, Stephen returns to home after a long estrangement—and it happens to be the night his father is shot to death. When his fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, Stephen’s guilt seems undeniable. But there were five other people in the manor house at the time, and as their stories slowly emerge—along with the revelation that the deceased man was involved in a deadly hunt for a priceless relic in Northern France at the end of World War II—the race is on to save Stephen from a death sentence.
Everyone has a motive, and no one is telling the truth.
Unwilling to sit by and watch the biased judge condemn Stephen to death, an ageing police inspector decides to travel from England to France to find out what really happened in that small French village in 1945—and what artifact could be so valuable it would be worth killing for.
To be honest, the first thing that caught my attention with this book was that it was written by the grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s pretty cool that he also became an author, albeit of the mystery/suspense genre. The premise of the novel also intrigued me so it went on my want-to-read list; it was only recently that I finally got a hold of a copy to read. Contains some spoilers!
What’s interesting about this novel is that it’s a mix of a number of different genres: mystery, suspense, historical fiction and courtroom drama. It has elements of a Steve Berry/Dan Brown mystery with the search for the Codex while it also has elements of your whodunnit mystery. The former however does not take centre stage in this story–rather, it’s more like a secondary plot that supports the main mystery of who killed Professor Cade and why. All of the evidence and circumstances around the murder point to his younger son, Stephen, to whom he was estranged from for many years, and the public and prosecution is more than happy to charge him with the crime and sentence him to hanging. Yet there’s more to the case than meets the eye, and that is where the story with the Codex and Professor Cade’s search for it during the Second World War in France comes in.
What also throws considerable doubt in the case against Stephen are the characters themselves. This is probably the most interesting part of the novel, the different characters involved in the case and their relation to Professor Cade. Stephen’s POV and his brother Silas offers a less-than-rosy relationship with their father, with various instances that point to either brother as the culprit. It’s dynamics like this–and their different personalities clashing with their father’s–that were the most interesting to me and it really does leave the reader wondering what really happened that night in their father’s study. Added to the mix is the ambitious Sasha who is also looking into Professor Cade’s work and who also has a bone to pick with the late professor as well as the Ritters, who knew the professor from the war. All of these viewpoints are radically different and paints a very interesting picture of life in Professor Cade’s home in the months leading up to his death as well as Professor Cade’s life, pursuits and the man himself. It also contexualises the mystery of his death; who would have the most to gain out of his demise and why? And the answer to that is, well, surprising–surprising in that I did not even think to include that particular character in list of potential suspects.
On a separate note, it was also interesting to see the point of view of the character of DI William Trave, a man who is also connected to the investigation but is on the flipside of the story and is seeking to solve the investigation. I personally wished some more time was spent on his side of the story because he approached the entire situation with a rational point of view (of course) and he had his own past to deal with; it would have been interesting to delve more into his own psyche and motivations. I should note that the end of the synopsis about him travelling to France is a little misleading as it doesn’t happen until the last third of the novel.
Having said that, The Inheritance is a bit of a slow plod to read. The first half of the novel really reads like a courtroom drama where the details of the case and the relations of the characters to both the accused and the deceased are fleshed out in the entirety. It’s interesting but at the same time, it can be a little dry. At times even the secondary plot of finding the Codex and the cross of St. Peter was boring compared to the whodunnit side of the story and the Cade brothers’ history with their father. Also, while the great reveal at the end was a surprise for me, the explanation that followed seemed a little awkward–there could have been another way to convey this information without resorting to one, super long monologue.
Overall, The Inheritance was interesting from the aspect of the family dynamics and the case of who killed Professor Cade. The characterisations of some of the secondary characters, particularly Sasha, could have been more fleshed out as I did not sympathise with her plight to finish her father’s work, best Professor Cade and solve the Codex. Her ambition just seemed too one-noted and not very compelling. While I appreciate the search for the Cross to be a driving motivation behind many of the characters, in the end I wasn’t as invested in that story as I was with Stephen’s case. Overall, it’s an interesting story with many sides and would recommend this novel for mystery lovers.