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.)
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.
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 householdsthe investigation proceeds slowly, slowly, through endless conversations with nary a hint of violence before the suspects' secrets tumble out in the closing pageshe 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.
“You’re going to love Todd.”
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.