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Monday, January 20, 2014

Review: 'Hunting Shadows'

By Charles Todd
Crime fiction
January 2014
William Morrow
ISBN: 978-0062237187

Returning for his 16th novel, WWI survivor and Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge is on the road again, solving murders in the appropriately named Hunting Shadows.

This time, the story begins with an old soldier who largely keeps to himself but feels he needs to pay his respects to another soldier by attending his funeral in the Fens country. He stops short of entering the church upon seeing an old enemy, a former officer. He waits until the man returns to the area for a wedding and, drawing on his sniper experience during the war, kills the man in front of the bridegroom.

The public slaying horrifies the area. People are even more scared when another man, a quiet country solicitor running for Parliament, also is killed by an unknown assailant in public.

En route to the small villages where the murders took place, Rutledge is lost in the fog one night on the Fens, guided by a ghostly presence who leads him to eventual safety. As with many people Rutledge meets in his investigations, people are suspicious of the police yet expect them to solve crimes, preferably before they happen.

Mixed in with the prickly characters are those who intrigue Rutledge as people, whether they may know much about the murders or even be suspects. There are at least two who would be worth seeing in subsequent novels in this series.

One of the highlights of this novel is the focus on the role of snipers in WWI. Although they saved many lives, their ability to blend into their surroundings to kill was seen by many as cowardly, as not forthright or sporting. The snipers often keep their past a secret, to avoid being shunned. It's an interesting commentary on warcraft and the needs of the battlefield.

The novel also does a wonderful job of bringing the bleak, blandly treacherous Fens to life. This is the landscape in which Lord Peter Wimsey got lost in The Nine Tailors, and this Todd novel recalls that classic tale as well as tells its own strong story.

Rutledge remains haunted by Hamish MacLeod, although the corporal whose execution Rutledge ordered does not disrupt the narrative. He serves as Rutledge's inner guide, asking the right question at the right time and being a bit of a worrywart. Rutledge still suffers from being in the trenches. As his investigation brings back the horrors of those times, he relives them as well.

But he also is soldiering on in that he shows signs of trying to move on by doing his job with diligence, wishing happiness for those he cares about and showing a wee bit more of his human side in his consideration of people he comes across in this outing.

Hunting Shadows is a superb entry in one of the most consistently entertaining historical mystery series around.

©2014 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Book Reviews and reprinted with permission

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