The narrator breaks the fourth wall, addressing the audience: “In 1964, you meet me at the self-assured age of 29.…” Then Dr. Theo Sinclair meets a young American, Alice. She is a bold interloper who demands that Theo tell her about a murder case he witnessed in 1943 when he was nine years old. It was as a result of that murder case that Alice’s father, Duke Donovan, was convicted of murder and hanged.
Theo recalls the apple harvest in Somerset where he was sent during the Blitz. Farmer Lockwood used to season by dropping a leg of mutton into each cider cask. Farmer Lockwood’s daughter, Barbara, flirted with American G.I. Donovan. Barbara then committed suicide after being raped by a local ne’er-do-well.
A year later, a hogshead of Somerset cider served in a pub causes food poisoning. After it is drained, the hogshead is found to contain a human skull with a bullet hole. The victim is identified as the ne’er-do-well. Suspicion moves from the farmer to the G.I. after a U.S. Army .45 is identified as the murder weapon. Premeditation is alleged on the theory that the rape was over when Duke returned to the farmhouse for the gun. Now, years later, Alice wants to clear her father’s name.
As the two sleuths close in on the real killer, suspects and motives multiply, as does the terror. Rough Cider delivers laughs and chills. Peter Lovesey challenges our assumptions and makes interesting points about memory.