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The Inheritance

The Inheritance

3.4 7
by Simon Tolkien

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Everyone has a motive, and no one is telling the truth in this complex mystery of deception and betrayal

When an eminent art historian is found dead in his study, all the evidence points to his son, Stephen. He was the last person seen with his father, his fingerprints are on the murder weapon, and he was about to be disinherited in his father's will.


Everyone has a motive, and no one is telling the truth in this complex mystery of deception and betrayal

When an eminent art historian is found dead in his study, all the evidence points to his son, Stephen. He was the last person seen with his father, his fingerprints are on the murder weapon, and he was about to be disinherited in his father's will. Stephen's guilt seems undeniable. But as Inspector Trave of the Oxford Police uncovers the stories of the five other people who were also in the house—along with the revelation that the deceased man was involved in a deadly hunt for a priceless relic at the end of World War II—he feels the case begin to unravel. As Stephen's trial unfolds at the Old Bailey, Trave travels to France to find out what really happened in 1944, and the race is on to save Stephen from the gallows.

Author Simon Tolkien received widespread critical praise for his first legal thriller, Final Witness. Now, in The Inheritance, Tolkien sharpens his craft even more, deftly weaving psychological suspense and family drama to create a mystery steeped in memories, betrayal, and the long shadow of the past. Part courtroom drama and part historical thriller, The Inheritance is a dark, dynamic mystery that tests the strength of blood ties, loyalty, and the thirst for revenge.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Simon Tolkien's grandfather is J. R. R., but his new novel owes more to Agatha Christie--and Dan Brown.” —New York Times

“A fine novel. A thinking person's Da Vinci Code.” —Chicago Tribune

“A first-rate writer…Written with great surety and absolutely compelling.” —Booklist (starred review)

“A deft combination of Agatha Christie manor-house whodunit, Erle Stanley Gardner courtroom drama and Dan Brown thriller, The Inheritance is nonetheless unique to its creator. And Tolkien, with this compelling read, proves himself worthy--and then some--of his literary pedigree.” —Richmond Times Dispatch

“Display[s] a narrative skill that the author of The Lord of the Rings would surely have recognized and admired.” —Philadelphia Inquirer

“This second novel (after The Final Witness) by J.R.R. Tolkien's grandson is a legal thriller, World War II historical novel, and Da Vinci Code treasure hunt all rolled into one… an absorbing 1950s-era mystery.” —Library Journal

Publishers Weekly
Set in 1959, Tolkien's strong if somewhat formulaic legal thriller, his second after The Final Witness, centers on the trial at London's Old Bailey of Stephen Cade, who stands accused of murdering his Oxford historian father. The evidence against Cade is overwhelming. After learning that he was about to be disinherited, Cade sought out his father, from whom he'd long been estranged, and argued with him. The police found his fingerprints on the gun used in the killing. The investigating officer, Det. Insp. William Trave, questions the accused's guilt, despite the case's prosecutor urging him not to “muddy the water.” The truth may lie in Normandy, where the older Cade was involved in an incident that left several French civilians dead toward the end of WWII. While Tolkien, the grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, could've done a better job of hiding the clues pointing to the real culprit, fans of English courtroom dramas will be satisfied. (Apr.)
Library Journal
This second novel (after The Final Witness) by J.R.R. Tolkien's grandson is a legal thriller, World War II historical novel, and Da Vinci Code treasure hunt all rolled into one. Stephen Cade, son of a famed historian and war hero, is quickly convicted and sentenced to death for his father's murder, based on circumstantial evidence. Detective Bill Tave's instincts tell him there is more to the story, and right he is. There were five others in the Cade mansion that night, some of whom had a clear interest in whether the old professor lived or died. VERDICT This intricate story, which includes a distant father, the hunt for a religious artifact, and much detail about British society and its justice system, is a bit overambitious. However, it moves quickly, and the motives of the characters provide energy and drive to what turns out to be an absorbing 1950s-era mystery. Should appeal to fans of legal thrillers and British procedurals and such authors as Charles Todd.—Nancy Fontaine, Dartmouth Coll., Hanover, NH
Kirkus Reviews
Tolkien's second novel (The Final Witness, 2002), set in 1959 England, mixes an old-school murder mystery with courtroom melodrama. Professor Cade was well known for his knowledge of illuminated manuscripts, not for his warm demeanor and people skills. He was estranged from Stephen, his only biological son. Someone pierced his lung with a rifle bullet during a trip several years ago, and one can assume it probably wasn't because his personality was too winning. Entertainment at the evening meal at his manor house usually consisted of Sergeant Ritter, who served under the professor in France during the waning days of World War II and then as a housekeeper at the manor, mercilessly berating Cade's adopted son Silas. His assistant, Sasha, secretly hated the professor's guts due to the underhanded tactics Cade used to secure tenure, ruining her father in the process. Yet, despite being surrounded by people who despised him, when Professor Cade was shot through the head one night in his study the evidence against Stephen was so overwhelming, Inspector Trave, the man in charge of the investigation, had no choice but to lock him up almost immediately. Stephen was duly charged and tried, but as the trial dragged on, Trave began to have his doubts about Stephen's guilt. In any event, he began to wish he'd spent some time looking into certain unpleasant events involving Professor-then Colonel-Cade that happened in a church in northern France at the end of the war, something to do with a mysterious codex and an ancient, jewel-encrusted cross. Although ostensibly set in the late 1950s, Tolkien's book never captures the era. Apart from the plot's dependence on events that took place at the end ofWWII, there is nothing to anchor it to the time. Competently done, but largely forgettable.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Inspector Trave Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt


Detective Inspector William Trave of the Oxfordshire CID felt the pain as soon as he’d passed through the revolving entrance doors of the Old Bailey and had shaken the rain out from his coat onto the dirty wet floor of the courthouse. It hurt him in the same place as before—on the left side of his chest, just above his heart. But it was worse this time. It felt important. Like it might never go away.

There was a white plastic chair in the corner, placed there perhaps by some kind janitor to accommodate visitors made faint by their first experience of the Old Bailey. Now Trave fell into it, bending down over his knees to gather the pain into himself. He was fighting for breath while prickly sweat poured down in rivulets over his face, mixing with the raindrops. And all the time his brain raced from one thought to another, as if it wanted in the space of a minute or two to catch up on all the years he had wasted not talking to his wife, not coming to terms with his son’s death, not living. He thought of the lonely North Oxford house he had left behind at seven o’clock that morning, with the room at the back that he never went into, and he thought of his ex-wife, whom he had seen just the other day shopping in the covered market. He had run back into the High Street, frightened that his successor might come into view carrying a shared shopping bag, and had ducked into the Mitre in search of whisky.

Trave wanted whisky now, but the Old Bailey wasn’t the place to find it. For a moment he considered the possibility of the pub across the road. It was called The Witness Box, or some fatuous name like that, but it wouldn’t be open yet. Trave felt his breath beginning to come easier. The pain was better, and he got out a crumpled handkerchief and wiped away some of the sweat and rain. It was funny that he’d felt for a moment that he was actually going to die, and yet no one seemed to have noticed. The security guards were still patting down the pockets of the public just like they had been doing all morning. One of them was even humming a discordant version of that American song, “Heartbreak Hotel.” A rain-soaked middle-aged policeman sitting on a chair in the corner, gathering his breath for the day ahead, was hardly a cause for distraction.

A sudden weariness came over Trave. Once again he felt weighed down by the meaninglessness of the world around him. Trave always tried to keep his natural nihilism at bay as best he could. He did his job to the best of his ability, went to church on Sundays, and nurtured the plants that grew in the carefully arranged borders of his garden—and sometimes it all worked. Things seemed important precisely because they didn’t last. But underneath, the despair was always there, ready to spring out and take him unawares. Like that morning, halfway down his own street, when a young man in blue overalls working on a dismembered motorcycle had brought back the memory of Joe as if he had gone only yesterday. And fallen apples in the garden at the weekend had resurrected Vanessa stooping to gather them into a straw basket three autumns before. It was funny that he always remembered his wife with her back turned.

Trave gathered himself together and made for the stairs. When he got time, he’d go and see his doctor. Perhaps the GP could give him something. In the meantime he had to carry on. Today was important. Regina v. Stephen Cade, said the list on the wall outside the courthouse. Before His Honour Judge Murdoch at twelve o’clock. Charged with murder. Father murder—patricide, it was called. And the father was an important man—a colonel in the army during the war and a university professor in civilian life. If convicted, the boy would certainly hang. The powers that be would see to that. The boy. But Stephen wasn’t a boy. He was twenty-two. He just felt like a boy to Trave. The policeman fought to keep back the thought that Stephen was so much like Joe. It wasn’t just a physical resemblance. Joe had had the same passion, the same need to rebel that had driven him to ride his brand new 600cc silver motorcycle too fast after dark down a narrow road on the other side of Oxford. A wet January night more than two years ago. If he’d lived, Joe would be twenty-two. Just like Stephen. Trave shook his head. He didn’t need the police training manual to know that empathising with the main suspect in a murder investigation was no way to do his job. Trave had trained himself to be fair and decent and unemotional. That way he brought order to a disordered world, and most of the time he believed there was some value in that. He would do his duty, give his evidence, and move on. The fate of Stephen Cade was not his responsibility.

Up in the police room, Trave poured himself a cup of black coffee, straightened his tie, and waited in a corner for the court usher to come and get him to give his evidence. He was the officer in the case, and, when the opening statements were over, he would be the first witness called by the prosecution.

The courtroom was one of the oldest in the Old Bailey. It was tall, lit by glass chandeliers that the maintenance staff needed long ladders to reach when the bulbs blew out. On the wood-paneled walls, pictures of long-gone nineteenth-century lawyers stared out on their twentieth-century successors. The judge sat robed in black in a leather-backed armchair placed on a high dais. Only the dock containing the defendant and two uniformed prison officers was at the same level. Between them, in the well of the court, were the lawyers’ tables; the witness box; and, to right and left, the benches for the press and the jury. The jurors were now in place, and Trave felt them slowly relaxing into their new surroundings. Their moment in the limelight, when they stumbled over their oath to render a true verdict in accordance with the evidence, had come and gone. Now they could sit in safe anonymity while the drama of the murder trial played out in front of them. Everyone—members of the press, the jurors, and the spectators packed together in the public gallery above the defendant’s head—was focused on the prosecutor, Gerald Thompson, as he gathered his long black gown around his shoulders and prepared to begin.

“What time did you arrive at Moreton Manor, Inspector?” he asked, “on the night of the murder?”

“Eleven forty-five.” Trave spoke loudly, forgetting for a moment the acoustic qualities of the Old Bailey.

“Were you the first policeman on the scene?”

“No. Officers Clayton and Watts were already there. They’d got everyone in the drawing room. It’s across from the front hall.”

“And the victim, Professor Cade—he was in his study. On the ground floor of the east wing.”

“Yes. That’s right,” said Trave.

There was a measured coldness and determination in the way the prosecutor put his questions, which contrasted sharply with his remarkable lack of stature. Gerald Thompson couldn’t have been more than five feet tall. Now he took a deep breath and drew himself up to his full short height as if to underline to the jury the importance of his next question.

“Now, tell us, Inspector. What did you find?”

“In the study?”

“Yes. In the study.”

Trave could hear the impatience in the prosecutor’s voice, but he still hesitated before beginning his reply. It was the question he’d asked himself a thousand times or more during the four months that had passed since he’d first seen the dead man, sitting bolt upright in his high-backed armchair, gazing out over a game of chess into nothing at all. Shot in the head. Detective Inspector Trave knew what he’d found, all right. He just didn’t know what it meant. Not in his bones, not where it mattered. Pieces of the jigsaw fit too well, and others didn’t fit at all. Everything pointed to Stephen Cade as the murderer, but why had he called out for help after killing his father? Why had he waited to open the door to his accusers? Why had he not tried to escape? Trave remembered how Stephen had gripped the table at the end of their last interview in Oxford Police Station, shouting over and over again until he was hoarse: “I didn’t do it I tell you. I didn’t kill him. I hated my father, but that doesn’t make me a murderer.”

Trave had got up and left the room, told the sergeant at the desk to charge the boy with murder, and walked out into the night. And he hadn’t slept properly ever since.

Thompson, of course, had no such doubts. Trave remembered the first thing the prosecution counsel had told him when the case was being prepared for trial: “There’s something you should know about me, Inspector,” he’d said in that nasal bullying tone with which Trave had now become so familiar. “I don’t suffer fools gladly. I never have and I never will.”

And Trave was a fool. Thompson hadn’t taken long to form that opinion. The art of prosecution was about following the straight and narrow, keeping to the path through the woods until you got to the hanging tree on the other side. Defence lawyers spent their time trying to sidetrack witnesses and throw smoke in the jurors’ eyes to keep them from the truth. Trave was the officer in the case. It was his duty not to be sidetracked, to keep his language plain and simple, to help the jury do its job. And here he was: hesitant and uncertain before he’d even begun.

Thompson cleared his throat and glowered at his witness.

“Tell us about the deceased, Inspector Trave,” he demanded. “Tell us what you found.”

“He’d been shot in the head.”

“How many times?”


“Where in the head?”

“In the forehead.”

“Did you find the gun?”

“Yes, it was on a side table, with a silencer attached. The defendant said he’d put it there after picking it up from the floor near the french windows, when he came back into the study from the courtyard.”

“That was the story he told you?”

“Yes, I interviewed him the next day at the police station.

“His fingerprints were on the gun. That’s right, isn’t it?”


“And on the key that he admitted he turned in order to unlock the door into the corridor. The defendant told you that as well in his interview, didn’t he, Inspector?”

“Yes. He said the door was locked and so he opened it to let Mr. Ritter into the study.”

“Tell us who Mr. Ritter is.”

“He was a friend of Professor Cade’s. They fought together in the war. He and his wife had been living at the manor house for about seven years, as I understand it. Mrs. Ritter acted as the housekeeper. They had the bedroom above the professor’s study, overlooking the main courtyard.”

“Thank you, Inspector. All the fingerprint evidence is agreed, my lord.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said the judge, in a tone that suggested he’d have had a great deal to say if it hadn’t been. His Honour Judge Murdoch looked furious already, Thompson noted with approval. Strands of grey hair stuck out at different angles from under his old horsehair wig, and his wrinkled cheeks shone even redder than usual. They were the legacy of a lifetime of excessive drinking, which had done nothing to improve the judge’s temper. Defendants, as he saw it, were guilty and needed to be punished. Especially this one. People like Stephen Cade’s father had fought in two world wars to defend their country. And for what? To see their sons rebel, take drugs, behave indecently in public places. Stephen Cade had made a mistake not cutting his hair for the trial. Judge Murdoch stared at him across the well of the court and decided that he’d never seen a criminal more deserving of the ultimate punishment. The little bastard had killed his father for money. There was no worse crime than that. He’d hang. But first he’d have his trial. A fair trial. Judge Murdoch would see to that.

“Let’s stay with the interview for a little bit longer,” said Gerald Thompson, taking up a file from the table in front of him. “You have it in front of you, if you need to refer to it, Inspector. It’s an agreed version. The defendant told you, did he not, that he’d been arguing with his father shortly before he found Professor Cade murdered?”

“Yes. He said that he went to the study at ten o’clock and that he and his father played chess and argued.”

“Argued about his father’s will? about his father’s intention to change that will and disinherit the defendant?”

“Yes. The defendant told me they talked about the will but that their main argument was over the defendant’s need for money.”

“Which his father was reluctant to give him.”

“Yes . . .”

Trave seemed to want to answer more fully, but Thompson gave him no opportunity. “The defendant told you in interview that he became very angry with his father. Isn’t that right, Inspector?” asked the prosecutor.


“The defendant admitted to shouting at Professor Cade that he deserved to die.” The pace of Thompson’s questioning continued to pick up speed.


“And then he told you that he left the study and went for a walk. That’s what he said, wasn’t it, Inspector?”

Thompson asked the question in a rhetorical tone that made it quite clear what he, at least, thought of Stephen Cade’s alibi.

“He said he walked up to the main gate and came back to the study about five minutes later, when he found his father murdered.”

“Yes. Now, Inspector, did you find any footprints to support Stephen Cade’s account?”

“No. But I wouldn’t have expected to. The courtyard is stone and the drive is Tarmac.”

“All right. Let me ask you this, then. Did you find any witnesses to back up his story?”

“No. No, I didn’t.”

“Thank you. Now one last question,” said Thompson, smiling as if he felt he’d saved his best for last. “Did you find any of the defendant’s belongings in the study?”

“We found his hat and coat.”

“Ah, yes. Where were they?”

“On a chair beside Professor Cade’s desk.”

“And the professor himself. Where was his body in relation to this chair and in relation to the entrance doors to the room? Can you help us with that, Inspector?”

“Why don’t you give the jury a chance to look at all this on the floor plan, Mr. Thompson?” said the judge, interrupting. “It might make it clearer.”

“Yes, my lord, I should have thought of that. Members of the jury, if you look at the plan, you can see the courtyard is enclosed on three sides by the main part of the house and its two wings. Professor Cade’s study is the last room on the ground floor of the east wing. It faces into the courtyard, and you can see the french windows marked. The internal door in the corner of the room opens out into a corridor which runs the length of the east wing. You can take it up from there, Inspector,” said Thompson, turning back to his witness.

“Yes. The deceased was seated in one of the two armchairs positioned in the centre of the study, about midway between the two entrances,” said Trave, holding up the plan. “The desk and the chair with the defendant’s hat and coat were further into the room.”

“So the professor was between the doors and the defendant’s hat and coat?”

“Yes. That’s right.”

“Thank you, Inspector. That’s what I wanted to know. No more questions.”

Thompson sat down with a self-satisfied expression on his face and stole a glance at the jury. He knew what the jurors must be asking themselves: Why would Stephen Cade have gone for a walk at half past ten at night? And if he did, why didn’t he take his hat and coat? It was obvious he hadn’t been wearing them, because not even he could pretend that he put them back on the other side of his dead father’s body on his return.

No, the truth was inescapable. Stephen Cade never went for any walk at all. He was in the study the whole time, arguing with his father about his will, threatening him, and finally killing him with a pistol that he had brought along for that precise purpose.

Then, the next day, he’d told the police a ridiculous story in order to try to save himself. But it wouldn’t wash. With a little help from the prosecution, the jury would see right through it. It’d find him guilty, and then Judge Murdoch would make him pay for what he’d done. With his neck.

Meet the Author

Simon Tolkien was born in England in 1959 and grew up in a small village outside Oxford. His grandfather was J.R.R. Tolkien, professor of philology and the author of The Lord of the Rings. Simon was educated by Benedictine monks at Downside School, and then went on to Oxford University, where he studied Modern History at Trinity College. Since 1994, he has been a successful barrister in London, specializing in criminal justice, where, according to British custom, he regularly appears on behalf of both the prosecution and the defense. His wife, Tracy, is an American who owns a vintage clothing store in Kings Road, Chelsea. They have two children and live in London.

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The Inheritance 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
NancyDrewSB More than 1 year ago
This author should try again...I bought the book because of his last name, which was not a good enough reason. Subplots are begun and never finished and the book ends so abruptly, I thought I had missed something.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1959 in London Stephen Cade is on trial for murdering his famous war hero and Oxford historian father. The case is obvious as the evidence condemns Stephen. He and his father were estranged for a long time and he only goes to see him when his dad cuts him out of his will. Soon after they argue, the older Cade is shot to death by a gun with the younger Cade's fingerprints on it. He is convicted rather quickly and sentenced to die. Oxford and Midland CID Police Detective Inspector William Trave finds the evidence too overwhelming for someone as intelligent as Stephen is. The prosecutor tells him to let it go as this was a crime of passion not intelligence. Unable to ignore his gut as five other people were in the crime scene mansion on that fatal night with tales that fail to match then and in 1944, Trave finds ties to Normandy where the famous late famous war hero apparently was part of an incident that left French civilians dead. This is a super historical police procedural that brings to life England during the Cold War as Trave finds one revelation after another tying 1959 to 1944. The story line is fast-paced throughout although the audience figures out who the culprit is well before the cop does. Fans will enjoy Simon Tolkien's entertaining whodunit as the investigation brings out a sort of historiographic feel to the plot with readers observing how the English in 1959 recall Normandy in 1944. Harriet Klausner
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