Charles Todd is a pen name used by the American authors Caroline and Charles Todd. As Charles Todd, they have written a number of books set in post-World War I England and featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge.
Rutledge is secretly suffering from shell shock (inter alia) after the Battle of the Somme, and I thought the book provided a perceptive and empathetic look at the agonies of those who participated in that bloodbath. [In the Battle of the Somme, the British suffered 419,654 casualties, with 131,000 dead and an untold number victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (known as shell shock at the time of WWI). At that time, treatment for shell shock was primitive at best.] Inspector Rutledge’s shell shock has an interesting twist, however. He lives with the constant taunting ghostly presence of Hamish MacLeod, a young Scots soldier he was forced to have executed for refusing an order. As his psychiatrist explained to Ian:
“You couldn’t accept that one man’s death. And so you refused to let him die. He’s every young soldier you tried to keep alive and failed. He’s your expression of guilt for that failure, and he will be in your head as long as that guilt lasts. Or until you die and take Hamish MacLeod with you to the grave.”
In A Lonely Death, a captain of artillery whom Rutledge had befriended in the war just killed himself, and it is a struggle for Rutledge not to join him. He often muses that he is glad his pre-war romance never worked out, since he, like so many others who went to the war, came back so damaged, and so unable to communicate what happened to anyone else:
“Broken dreams were easier to walk away from than broken lives.”
Many women stayed with their men in spite of everything:
“[Rutledge] thought how pity, mistaken for love, could ruin lives.”
In this particular “episode” (and the first one which I have read), the Inspector is called to investigate the deaths of three men from the village of Eastfield in Sussex. Each was garroted, three days apart, and they all had military ID disks placed in their mouths. Rutledge quickly ascertains that the three served in the war in the same regiment, and is afraid that the others in the town from their company will also be targeted.
Discussion: This is an unusual detective procedural for several reasons. One is that, rather than the usual detective foibles, such as alcoholism, Rutledge has a unique condition – PTSD – that is manifested by the constant companionship of a ghost as his “partner.” The second is that this is clearly a historical procedural. The Rutledge stories are all set in post-World War I England, and the authors have taken great pains to portray the physical and emotional devastation wrought by that war. The mystery in the book, although not uninteresting, seems very secondary to that goal. In particular, the authors exercise skill and empathy in depicting the psychological effects of the fighting. Rutledge’s mental struggles are rather heartbreaking, and one finds oneself glad he has someone to understand him, even if it’s only a ghost.
Evaluation: This series provides an entertaining way to learn about the devastation wreaked on England and France from World War I and the Great Influenza, which took their toll in unison on the unfortunate populace of Europe. Although this is the thirteenth in the Inspector Rutledge series, I had no trouble picking up who was who and what was going on.
Published by William Morrow, 2011