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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: 'A Lonely Death'

By Charles Todd
January 2011
William Morrow
ISBN: 978-0-172619-4

One by one, WWI veterans in a small village are murdered. Alone in the wee hours of the morning as farmers or brewers, they are garrotted with the identity disc of a soldier left in their mouths. The names on the discs are not theirs. Why are they being targeted? Why are other men's names placed in their mouths? Was there anything that happened during the war that led to being murdered afterward? Or before that, when they were all lads in the village?

Haunted Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge gets the case, although not everyone on the scene or at the Yard wants him there. As always, Rutledge also is dealing with the voice of Hamish, a man he admired who he had shot for desertion during the Great War. And he is dealing not only with Hamish, but also with the knowledge that he has strong feelings for a woman who may or may not care for him. A retiring superior leaves him with an unsolved mystery that Rutledge also cannot let go of. There are the usual attempts from his enemies at Scotland Yard and other prickly police that not only get in his way from investigating, but also land Rutledge in deep trouble.

As for the last, the authors (Todd and his mother, Caroline Todd, write the books under one name) expertly describe how society's attitudes about police and privacy affect Rutledge's ability to investigate. It's one of the aspects of an Inspector Rutledge novel that make it a deeply involved visit to the times between the wars. The setting plays an integral role in developing Rutledge's journey through each mystery and his life. These books are remarkable trips back to their setting.

Being alone infuses every page of the latest Inspector Ian Rutledge novel. Although Rutledge is never truly alone, because Hamish's voice is always with him, the inherent solitude of human beings who are not connected with others and who are rejected by others is the overwhelming theme.

When the first Rutledge novel, A TEST OF WILLS, appeared, Hamish seemed to be a gimmick that might grow old. But that has not happened. Rutledge's pain in causing Hamish's death and his steadfast adherence to his duty that led to that death are the reasons why the good inspector suffers from shellshock and literally battles his inner demons. What is growing old instead is the problem Rutledge faces from higher-ups at the Yard who are the epitome of unreasonable, ignorant bosses.

Rutledge's inner struggles are so eloquently described and, because his ongoing relationship with the dead Hamish are so important a part of the novels, the outer conflict with bullies at work threaten to drag the books down. In A LONELY DEATH, Rutledge's situation can be compared and contrasted to what's going on in the actual investigation, so it does make sense. The Todds veer dangerously close to preaching in this one, but their point of view is highly understandable.

However, it is possible Rutledge and the series are at a crossroads. The Todds certainly have shown time and again that they can develop new twists and an ongoing story arc that make Rutledge a character well worth visiting. If Rutledge returns with yet another layered psychological and whodunit mystery that continues to chronicle his journey as well as the investigation, the series will have a steadfast place in the pantheon of complex, rewarding historical crime fiction.

©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

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