Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Charles Todd writes another compelling mystery concerning the First World War

Charles Todd is a mother-son writing team, and they specialize in mysteries that are somehow connected to the brutal conflict of the early twentieth century. They are always readable and often engaging.

A Lonely Death

Ian Rutledge is a World War I vet working for Scotland Yard in the years immediately following the conflict. In Charles Todd’s A Lonely Death (352 pages, William Morrow, $24.99), Rutledge is called in when three different World War I vets from a single village are murdered in a short span. All three have been lured into quiet byways and garroted. And all three leave behind families that had been happy to have these young men back from the war, even if they had seemed very different from the boys who left four years before.

Rutledge has his work cut out for him, especially since he has his own war trauma to deal with and his own ghosts to dispel. This is not easy when he is working on a case that brings him into confrontation with his deepest fears. But that’s the man we have some to know as Ian Rutledge. He’s ready to take on the task, no matter how unpleasant it is.

He is not exactly welcomed into the village in Sussex where the murders have taken place. The locals are very private, and they can’t understand why Scotland Yard has to poke its nose into a local concern. But Rutledge is good enough at his job that he mostly wins respect. Still, respect is withheld by a key person, a schoolteacher who was engaged to one of the men who was murdered, and she makes Rutledge’s life hell.

Accused of unprofessional behavior, of which we know he was not guilty, he is almost barred from the case. Well, actually he is barred for a while, but he returns when his successor is almost murdered. He cannot resolve the case, however, and he begins to despair of ever doing so.

Todd is good at getting into the spirit of a small village, and the tiny jealousies and shrouded histories of village life are all grist for the mill of this mystery team. The outline of the plot is not the novel's strongest point, but the feeling for the place and the sense of desolation after the war surely are.

In the end Rutledge succeeds and he justifies himself as well. This is surely satisfying. But even more satisfying is the sense that we have seen into the heart of the village and that we understand even a little more about the horrors of war, even when that war is fought in another country.

Charles Todd

A Lonely Death is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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