Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: A Test of Wills - Charles Todd

Author: Charles Todd
Publisher-Format: Recorded Books, p1999, c1996. 10 1/2 hours
Narrator: Samuel Gillies 
Subject: murder, "shell shock"
Setting: Warwickshire UK
Series: Inspector  Ian Rutledge Mysteries #1
Genre: mystery - British police procedural
Source: public library
Recommended? definitely

My LT reading buddies are always raving about Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge detective series, and I'd seen several that looked interesting.  My buds also advised me that I'd probably be happier if I started at the beginning, saying that they really build one upon the next, so I took their advice.  It's always fun when friends recommend a book, and you love what they pushed you into.  This series, along with Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series are the perfect accompaniment to my World War I reading.  Reading about war can become an overwhelming downer, and these mysteries are giving me the chance to immerse myself into the times, use my brain to try to figure out "who dunnit" with the protagonists, and enjoy a relaxing reading experience at the same time.

Home from service in "The Great War", suffering shell-shock (what we now recognize as PTSD) and bringing with him an alter-ego (or is it the ghost?) of Hamish McLeod, a Scottish soldier whose death allowed Rutledge to survive, he finds his  fiancèe has backed out of their relationship, he has lost confidence in his ability to continue what had obviously been a promising career with Scotland Yard (and they also seem to want to find a way to put him permanently out to pasture) and he now finds himself sent to investigate what appears to be a local murder in a small village that normally the Yard would not have been involved in.  So why has he been sent?

This is a marvelous British murder mystery, with engaging characters, a large group of suspects, a murder with an apparent motive that Rutledge (goaded by Hamish) does not want to believe.  The obvious suspects are all men who have served in the war, and to varying degrees are now paying the physical and/or psychological price for their service.  Rutledge has difficulties believing what appear to be blatant clues.  The portraits of a village trying to come to grips with these veterans and their problems, gives us a clear idea of the range of emotions survivors endured--from adopting the stiff upper lip, to consigning those less fortunate to the "out of sight, out of mind" dustbin. And for those of you who like good plot twists, I'll say simply that the ending was quite different.  I thought I had it figured out (and I did) but then I didn't.  No spoilers, but you'll love it!

Charles Todd, actually a pseudonym for a mother-son writing team, gives us a nicely developed protagonist with just enough background and motivation to make up eager for more. They do a bang-up job of painting a picture of the time, and leave us rushing out the door in pursuit of the next episode. There are currently 14 in this series, which is obviously going to delve into the effects of shell-shock, and  the societal changes in British society as a result of changing roles during and after the War. I'm going to be haunting bookstores and libraries to get the back copies of this series.  Can't believe I missed them when they first came out.


  1. wow, another series that sounds so good..but do I want to start one with 13 more waiting in the wigs? oh, the pressure!

  2. I would like this series I'm sure so on the list it goes.

  3. Thanks for participating this year. We've linked up your review and a snippet will appear on March 20.


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