It was Sherlock Holmes who said, “It’s my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys of London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” Well, Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard could certainly bear out the truth of that observation. The series of books by Charles Todd that chronicle the Inspector’s investigations seem invariably to take him to distant villages and isolated farms to solve murder and mayhem. The point of difference is that this is 1920, and Rutledge is a Great War victim, forever haunted (literally) by the ghost of his Scottish sergeant, Hamish, who he executed for desertion.
In fact, Charles Todd is the pen name of American Caroline Todd and her son Charles. But this doesn’t prevent them from very nicely using the period and the place to provide an effective back drop for the tortured but gifted Inspector Rutledge as he worries his way through the mystery of the moment. At times the plots and their mechanisms seem a trifle forced, the conversations with the ghostly Hamish can get a bit of a pain, and after a series currently up to nine, all set over a seven-month period in 1919-20, the Inspector’s anguish and inability to entertain, let alone sustain, a relationship, is getting just a bit too familiar to us.
A Long Shadow, number eight in the series, is a case in point. There are three mysteries rolled into one – Rutledge is receiving mysterious threats via a series of cartridge cases incised with poppies and skulls; he is sent to investigate the shooting of a village policeman with an arrow; and ends up searching for the body of a young girl missing for several years, possibly with the involvement of the skewered bobby. Throw in a mysterious woman medium, a strangely- belligerent publican, and several other suspicious characters of both sexes, and there is plenty for Rutledge to ponder. All of these mysteries are effectively resolved through a single event, after Rutledge has sorted out the means and motive, leaving him to contemplate his own demons ready for the next, apparently immediate, challenge. It must be very exhausting for him.
The interesting features of the series are that the sidekick is a ghost, and that the period and place are satisfyingly (and surprisingly) evocative. The forensics are extremely limited compared with the miracles we have come to expect from television crime shows, which leave a lot for the little grey cells and an awareness of human nature to work on – much more satisfying.
Publisher: Harper ISBN-10: 0060786728 ISBN-13: 978-0060786724
Inspector Ian Rutledge series:
A False Mirror, A Long Shadow, A Cold Treachery, A Fearsome Doubt, Watchers of Time, Legacy of the Dead, Search the Dark, Wings of Fire, and A Test of Wills