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A Test of Wills (Inspector Ian Rutledge Series #1)

A Test of Wills (Inspector Ian Rutledge Series #1)

4.0 122
by Charles Todd

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“Todd has written a first novel that speaks out, urgently and compassionately, for a long-dead generation….A meticulously wrought puzzle.”
—New York Times Book Review

“An intricately plotted mystery. With this remarkable debut, Charles Todd breaks new ground in the historical crime novel.”
—Peter Lovesey, author of


“Todd has written a first novel that speaks out, urgently and compassionately, for a long-dead generation….A meticulously wrought puzzle.”
—New York Times Book Review

“An intricately plotted mystery. With this remarkable debut, Charles Todd breaks new ground in the historical crime novel.”
—Peter Lovesey, author of The Circle

“You’re going to love Todd.”
—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

The first novel to feature war-damaged Scotland Yard inspector Ian Rutledge, A Test of Wills is the book that brought author Charles Todd into the spotlight. This Edgar® and Anthony Award-nominated, New York Times Notable mystery brilliantly evokes post-World War I Great Britain and introduces readers to one of crime fiction’s most compelling series protagonists. Here the shell-shocked Rutledge struggles to retain his fragile grip on sanity while investigating the death of a popular army colonel, murdered, it appears, by a decorated war hero with ties to the Royal Family. A phenomenal writer, a twisting puzzle, a character-rich re-creation of an extraordinary time and place…it all adds up to one exceptional read that will delight fans of Elizabeth George, Martha Grimes, Jacqueline Winspear, Ruth Rendell, and other masters of the British procedural.

Editorial Reviews

Stephen King
“You’re going to love Todd.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A newcomer returns us to the essential pleasures of the well-crafted puzzle in this debut, the absorbing story of a young British WWI veteran returning from the war to his job as a Scotland Yard inspector. Ian Rutledge has a deep secret to keep: he suffers from shell shock, which manifests itself as Hamish MacLeod, an inner voice articulating Ian's worst fears and suspicions, personal and professional. ``I'm a scar on your bluidy soul,'' Hamish taunts him. Rutledge is sent to the village of Upper Streetham on a case with enough land mines for a battlefield: the murder of retired Col. Charles Harris. Villagers suspect Mavers, a perennial and malicious troublemaker, but circumstances stubbornly point to Capt. Mark Wilton, a war hero who has powerful friends and is engaged to Harris's ward, Lettice Wood. The case is short on evidence and long on questions: What are Wilton and Wood hiding about their relationship? Why does the ``nice'' Harris described by villagers sound unlike the colonel Rutledge remembers seeing during the war? What so traumatized a village child that her intense withdrawal might be fatal? Frustrated at every turn, Rutledge questions a convincing cast of locals and begins to suspect there is ``a conspiracy to hide the truth'' of Harris's death. Or is that just Hamish talking? Readers learn the answers as Todd reveals the war experiences that left Rutledge in the company of Hamish. Todd, an American, depicts the outer and inner worlds of his characters with authority and sympathy as he closes in on his surprisingand convincingconclusion. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Inspector Ian Rutledge, a British veteran of the Great War secretly still suffering from shell-shock, returns to his Scotland Yard job in hopes of exorcizing his private demons. However, a devious higher-up has learned of his Achilles heel and gets Ian assigned to a potentially explosive and career-damaging casea murder involving a decorated war hero, a beautiful ward, and a shell-shocked witness. Strong, elegant prose; detailed surroundings; and sound plotting characterize this debut historicalthe first in a projected series. Highly recommended.
Kirkus Reviews
Returning from the Great War in 1919, Inspector Ian Rutledge is dispatched to the Warwick village of Upper Streetham to track down the killer of Colonel Charles Harris, shot from his horse but mysteriously landed on his chest. Except for heavily alibied malcontent Bert Mavers, no one seems to have anything bad to say about the squire: certainly not his loyal business manager Laurence Royston, his ward Lettice Wood, or her fiancé Captain Mark Wilton, who insists that his recent colloquy with Harris was anything but a quarrel. Besides, Rutledge's local colleagues tell him, how much stock can they place in the story of the quarrel, which depends entirely on the testimony of Daniel Hickam, half- mad from shell shock? As Rutledge pokes sedately among the embers of Harris's manse and the neighboring households—the investigation proceeds slowly, slowly, through endless conversations with nary a hint of violence before the suspects' secrets tumble out in the closing pages—he wrestles with a secret of his own: his agonizing case of shell shock, which has cursed him with the nagging specter of Hamish MacLeod, a corporal whose only return from the war has been inside Rutledge's head.

The 20th century hasn't happened in Upper Streetham, which seems to have been cast out of Rebecca, or in first-novelist Todd's deeply old-fashioned storytelling, which eschews the slightest impropriety in favor of the patient subtlety and circumlocution that held readers in thrall 70 years ago. A feast for the like-minded.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Inspector Ian Rutledge Series , #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

In this quiet part of Warwickshire death came as frequently as it did anywhere else in England, no stranger to the inhabitants of towns, villages, or countryside. Sons and fathers had died in the Great War; the terrible influenza epidemic had scythed the county--man, woman, and child--just as it had cut down much of Europe; and murder was not unheard of even here in Upper Streetham.

But one fine June morning, as the early mists rose lazily in the warm sunlight like wraiths in no hurry to be gone, Colonel Harris was killed in cold blood in a meadow fringed with buttercups and cowslips, and his last coherent thought was anger. Savage, wild, black fury ripped through him in one stark instant of realization before oblivion swept it all away, and his body, rigid with it, survived the shotgun blast long enough to dig spurs into the mare's flanks while his hands clenched the reins in a muscular spasm as strong as iron.

He died hard, unwilling, railing at God, and his ragged cry raised echoes in the quiet woods and sent the rooks flying even as the gun roared.

* * *

In London, where rain dripped from eaves and ran black in the gutters, a man named Bowles, who had never heard of Colonel Harris, came into possession of a piece of information that was the reward of very determined and quite secret probing into the history of a fellow policeman at Scotland Yard.

He sat at his desk in the grim old brick building and stared at the letter on his blotter. It was written on cheap stationery in heavy ink by a rounded, rather childish hand, but he was almost afraid to touch it. Its value to him was beyond price, and if he had begged whatever gods he believedin to give him the kind of weapon he craved, they couldn't have managed anything sweeter than this.

He smiled, delight spreading slowly across his fair-skinned face and narrowing the hard, amber-colored eyes.

If this was true--and he had every reason to believe it was--he had been absolutely right about Ian Rutledge. He, Bowles, was vindicated by six lines of unwittingly damaging girlish scrawl.

Reading the letter for the last time, he refolded it carefully and replaced it in its envelope, locking it in his desk drawer.

Now the question was how best to make use of this bit of knowledge without burning himself in the fire he wanted to raise.

If only those same gods had thought to provide a way . . .

But it seemed, after all, that they had.

Twenty-four hours later, the request for assistance arrived from Warwickshire, and Superintendent Bowles happened, by the merest chance, to be in the right place at the right time to make a simple, apparently constructive suggestion. The gods had been very generous indeed. Bowles was immensely grateful.

The request for Scotland Yard's help had arrived through the proper channels, couched in the usual terms. What lay behind the formal wording was sheer panic.

The local police force, stunned by Colonel Harris's vicious murder, had done their best to conduct the investigation quickly and efficiently. But when the statement of one particular witness was taken down and Inspector Forrest understood just where it was going to lead him, the Upper Streetham Constabulary collectively got cold feet.

At a circumspect conference with higher county authority, it was prudently decided to let Scotland Yard handle this situation--and to stay out of the Yard's way as much as humanly possible. Here was one occasion when metropolitan interference in local police affairs was heartily welcomed. With undisguised relief, Inspector Forrest forwarded his request to London.

The Yard in its turn faced a serious dilemma. Willy-nilly, they were saddled with a case where discretion, background, and experience were essential. At the same time, it was going to be a nasty one either way you looked at it, and someone's head was bound to roll. Therefore the man sent to Warwickshire must be considered expendable, however good he might be at his job.

And that was when Bowles had made his timely comments.

Inspector Rutledge had just returned to the Yard after covering himself with mud and glory in the trenches of France. Surely choosing him would be popular in Warwickshire, under the circumstances--showed a certain sensitivity for county feelings, as it were. . . . As for experience, he'd handled a number of serious cases before the war, he'd left a brilliant record behind him, in fact. The word scapegoat wasn't mentioned, but Bowles delicately pointed out that it might be less disruptive to morale to lose--if indeed it should come to that--a man who'd just rejoined the force. Please God, of course, such a sacrifice wouldn't be required!

A half-hearted quibble was raised about Rutledge's state of health. Bowles brushed that aside. The doctors had pronounced him fit to resume his duties, hadn't they? And although he was still drawn and thin, he appeared to be much the same man who had left in 1914. Older and quieter naturally, but that was to be expected. A pity about the war. It had changed so many lives. . . .

The recommendation was approved, and an elated Bowles was sent to brief Rutledge. After tracking the Inspector to the small, drafty cubicle where he was reading through a stack of reports on current cases, Bowles stood in the passage for several minutes, steadying his breathing, willing himself to composure. Then he opened the door and walked in. The man behind the desk looked up, a smile transforming his thin, pale face, bringing life to the tired eyes.

"The war hasn't improved human nature, has it?" He flicked a finger across the open file on his blotter and added, "That's the fifth knifing in a pub brawl I've read this morning. But it seems the Army did manage to teach us something--exactly where to place the blade in the ribs for best results. None of the five survived. If we'd done as well in France, bayoneting Germans, we'd have been home by 1916."

His voice was pleasant, well modulated. It was one of the things that Bowles, with his high-pitched, North Country accent, disliked most about the man. And the fact that his father had been a barrister, not a poor miner. Schooling had come easily to Rutledge. He hadn't had to plod, dragging each bit of knowledge into his brain by sheer effort of will, dreading examinations, knowing himself a mediocrity. It rubbed a man's pride to the bone to struggle so hard where others soared on the worldly coattails of London-bred fathers and grandfathers. Blood told. It always had. Bowles passionately resented it. If there'd been any justice, a German bayonet would have finished this soldier along with the rest of them!

"Yes, well, you can put those away, Michaelson's got something for you," Bowles announced, busily framing sentences in his mind that would convey the bare facts and leave out the nuances that might put Rutledge on his guard, or give him an opening to refuse to go to Warwickshire. "First month back, and you've landed this one. You'll have your picture in the bloody papers before it's done, mark my words." He sat down and began affably to outline the situation.

What People are Saying About This

Stephen King
“You’re going to love Todd.”

Meet the Author

Charles Todd is the New York Times bestselling author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, the Bess Crawford mysteries, and two stand-alone novels. A mother-and-son writing team, they live on the East Coast.

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A Test of Wills (Inspector Ian Rutledge Series #1) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 122 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
We love all Charles Todd's books. They are poignent and heartfelt mysteries with just the right combination of atmosphere and character studies. I read them very slowly and am always sorry to put them down. I've read everything from Christie to Barr to George and nothing satisfies like a Todd.
nprfan1 More than 1 year ago
As a study of the psychology of a man who returns from the horrors of war, this is an excellent read. Ian Rutledge was a police inspector for Scotland Yard before World War I who during the war was forced to execute a man for cowardice (in the legal sense), and that man has now taken up residence in his subconscious. It's a situation that he must learn to live with, at least for the time being, and one that may damage if not destroy the career he returns to after the war. As a mystery, however, I agree with several reviewers here that Todd needs to hone his craft - although I understand that he's done so as additional books in the series have been published. The investigation itself is excellent; a typical British mystery probing the lives of all the suspects in a little country village, as well as those of other residents of the town. But the resolution, when it comes, is straight out of left field. There is mention of the motive and reason for the murder earlier on in the book, but just one mention of less than a page - and then you forget about it until the denouement several dozen pages later. I agree with one of the characters in the book. Rutledge needs a sergeant or someone to work with in the series. That someone could be aware of his psychological condition, whether Rutledge tells him or he finds out on his own. He (or she) should be sympathetic to his plight and keep it a secret from the rest of the Yard, particularly from his superior Bowles, who I found to be thoroughly unlikeable, although a bit two-dimensional. The conflict between Rutledge & Bowles should hopefully be fleshed out as the series continues. Todd's writing and style are first-rate, though, especially for an American writing a British mystery, and I definitely want to continue with this series.
Liesl Istre More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth George and was looking for a similar writer.......I just found him, Charles Todd. I love Scotland Yard and the characters that make up the Yard in both George and Todd's stories. I'm already into book 2 of the Ian Rutledge series and looking forward to reading all while I wait on a new novel by George.
Leeds-Loiner More than 1 year ago
It is an English novel written by an American using American grammar and Spelling I.E sidewalks not footpaths,Cookies not biscuits etc.It is wrriten for American readership,but I enjoyed it very much.Iwill check out the next in the series.There were lots of young men came from the great war psychologically scarred nd it will be interesting to see how Rutledge deals with his condition
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book and this Character. Even though he is a victim of shell shock. I like his sense of duty to perform his job even though he is haunted by his war experiences.
DetectiveH More than 1 year ago
As a lover of British Detective novels, this one packs a bang. We meet Inspector Ian Rutledge, a World War I veteran suffering from shell-shock, as he returns to Scotland Yard. The plot involving a double suicide and Rutledge's refusal to fail make this one heck of a read. I highly recommend it to anyone who follows DCI Alan Banks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WWI was a gastly war. It took a lot more from the remaining living than from those that died. Very interesting book.
Onthefly More than 1 year ago
Takes place post WWI in U.K. Interesting insight into life back then if accurate. A little slow going. No excitement at all. Almost no humor. I did buy book 2 and 3 in the series to follow up on Inspector Rutledge. We'll see.
Debi Brinson More than 1 year ago
Well writen
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the psychology of it all
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Recommended for the intelligent and discerning reader - a winner.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Please stop spamming this review board with these idiotic RP ideas. You want to play RP? Go to ANY other place than this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
lotto53 More than 1 year ago
I love this series. Wonderful characters and terrific plot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved everything about it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting and entertaining. A good diversion
Anonymous 6 months ago
Did it work?
cts827 11 months ago
This was a great book. It was well written and the plot keeps you guessing. Although it is a typical British murder mystery with a flawed detective, it keeps you turning pages to find out "who done it". This was a Barnes & Noble Readout (Serial Read) where they give you a chapter a day during the month. I really enjoyed reading this book.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Did not really come to a conclusion. Disappointing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well-written, interesting, detailed story. The detective is a sympathetic character. As if Anne Perry + Agatha Christie = Ian Rutledge. Looking forward to reading more in the series.
Phyllis_M More than 1 year ago
Ian Rutledge is a talented detective and also a very troubled man after the difficult years in the battlefields of France during WWI. He takes nothing at face value and uses his reasoning skills and his knowledge of human behavior to get at the truth. Frequently fighting the headwinds of influential people that want quick solutions that will get him out of the way. This series is entertaining and does not get bogged down in the minutiae. Frequently I find myself loving and hating the same characters at different times. In Test of Wills Rutledge is sent to this village by his very jealous London superior as a way to get him dismissed from Scotland Yard for his work on this highly politically charged case. As expected, Rutledge solves the crime and begins to regain some of his lost confidence.
dibbylodd More than 1 year ago
I have read several of the books in this series and enjoy them. They are well researched and thought out. The characters are believable and engaging. I decided it was time to read the first book of the series to see what Inspector Rutledge was like immediately after the war. It is sobering to see how tormented he is with his questions of whether or not he still has his keen second sense that allowed him to be very good at his job previously. Besieged with demons from the war and a supervisor who wants him to fail, he has to test himself and see just what he has left in himself. It is touching and impressive.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago