Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hunting Shadows: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery

by Charles Todd
Wm. Morrow     201
330 pages     Fiction

 Inspector Ian Rutledge came up to Cambridgeshire from London because two men had been killed by the type of  rifle commonly used during the war (World War I, that is) and the local police needed the help of Scotland Yard. Upon arrival he found that the mystery was not a simple one. First, the returning soldiers were supposed to have turned in all the army rifles. Who still had a rifle? What was the relationship between the men who had been killed? How do you travel around in the intense fog?

Rutledge spends his days interrogating people in four towns that make up the area of England called the Fens, a lowland area north of Cambridge. It is an area prone to fog and on the night Rutledge arrives, he becomes completely lost and nearly runs into one of the old windmills that dot the area.
Ploddingly, he pieces together the case, and it is very complicated. The communities are small; people are tight lipped, and the war is too soon over--emotions are raw. He feels like he is hunting shadows.

Rutledge can't shake the all-consuming depression that has followed him over these past few years following WWI. Modern science calls this PTSD; following WWI, it was called shellshock and we know a lot more about it than we did in 1920. He feels "disgrace and cowardice and lack of moral fiber."  This is the sixteenth mystery starring Inspector Ian Rutledge, and apparently his PTSD has not improved any since the initial book, A Test of Wills. I can't vouch for this because this is the first one that I have read. However the reviewer in the NY Journal of Books says: "One wishes for the case that will somehow provide a breakthrough to alleviate the suffering that hangs over these stories like a dark shroud." Rutledge's misery slows the book down. 

The bright spot of the book is the setting. I knew nothing of the Fens until I read Hunting Shadows. The cathedral in Ely, the largest town in the area, figures prominently in the novel and is absolutely stunning. Rutledge muses: "Ely was, in a way, a glimpse of what churches and Cathedrals must have looked like before the Reformation, when there were frescoes and painted statues and ceilings. The Victorians had reveled in adding color too, but not always successfully." After reading that, I had to quickly look up the Ely Cathedral. Incredible. 

The Fens themselves appear to be very appealing, although Rutledge doesn't seem to be particularly attracted to them and is quite annoyed with the system of roads, ditches, and windmills that dot the area. I asked our British family member about the Fens, and he said that it is one of the lovelier areas in England, although most of the wildness has been cultivated and the swampland turned into irrigation ditches. The authors have done a good job of creating the atmosphere of the neighborhood.

The other fascinating aspect of this book is that the Ian Rutledge series of mysteries are written by an American mother-son team that call themselves Charles Todd.
The mother, Caroline, is an English history buff, and the son, Charles, has studied the history of wars. Together, they shape the books in the Ian Rutledge and the Bess Crawford series. My son and I are about to collaborate on a book--nonfiction--and I am a bit anxious about how we will do as a team. Perhaps I should contact the Todds and see how they function together. They seem to be able to order up all the elements of the classic mystery: hero, setting, and plot.

The Charles Todd website:

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