Charles Todd is a pen name used by the American authors Caroline and Charles Todd. As Charles Todd, they have written eighteen books set in post-World War I England and featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge.
Rutledge is secretly suffering from shell shock (inter alia) from the Battle of the Somme, a horrific battle in which the British had 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). 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 Rutledge was forced to execute for refusing an order. Rutledge still carries with him the guilt for that act, and thus MacLeod stays in his head, making commentary and asides about the cases on which Rutledge works. (Rutledge has often thought that, as appealing as it may seem to kill himself, it would mean killing MacLeod yet a second time, which would be unacceptable.)
In this story, which takes place in 1920, the inspector is called to Cornwall at the request of the locals for a Scotland Yard investigation. A man drowned, and four young women who were out boating have been accused of killing him.
To Rutledge’s surprise, he discovers that he knows one of the young women – Kate Gordon, who was the cousin of his pre-war fiancee Jean. Rutledge had released Jean from that bond after the war, when she saw the “shell of a man who had returned from France.” Rutledge is quite certain Kate, if not all the girls, are innocent, but as he finds, there is “not a shred of evidence” about the case.
Nevertheless, he perseveres, and eventually is able to figure out what happened that day on the water. Perhaps the more important question is, will there be any further developments between Rutledge and Kate? And if so, how will Hamish fit into the picture?
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. Although this is the eighteenth in the Inspector Rutledge series, I had no trouble picking up who was who and what was going on.
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016