Friday, February 23, 2007

Forgiveness or Blame? Charles Todd, A FALSE MIRROR, Ninth Ian Rutledge Mystery

Like Inspector Ian Rutledge himself, the small coastal town of Hampton Regis has suffered from a force of nature: The changing coastline has muted its once thriving status as a port, and now it's merely a fishing town. The ensuing quiet mix of retired gentility and working-class bitterness ("fish scales" make a slippery slope to try to climb, socially!) gives the town some appeal as a shelter for diplomat Matthew Hamilton, settling down with his young wife Felicity after being booted -- for some hushed-up reason -- from the peace talks after World War I.

And here, Inspector Rutledge finds a tormented tangle of love, jealousy, and blame that echoes painfully the issues he faces personally. His engagement to the woman he loved dissolved in the rubble of his war wounds, as much mental as physical. And, as readers of this emotionally anguished series already know, Rutledge carries with him -- in more ways than one -- the baggage of the men he saw killed in the trenches.

But what emotional grace will release the pain, start the healing that, in the best of times, life offers? Is it necessary to discover who to blame? Or how to forgive? The "false mirror" of the title places these two processes against each other, as though they were two sides of the same coin. They are not, however, and solving the mystery demands that recognition.

Charles Todd's sure hand generates another compelling read in A FALSE MIRROR. As a daughter and granddaughter of English folk, I sometimes question a bit of the dialogue. But I suspect even this small doubt wouldn't cross my mind if I hadn't learned that Todd is a pen name for the mother-and-son writing team of Charles and Caroline "Todd," Anglophiles steeped in English history and passions but actually Americans by birth and permanent residence. Their grasp of the enduring damage to the people of this small, dignified nation during the Great War is eerily true to what I've seen and heard.

The copy I have here at Kingdom Books has been signed by both of the writing partners, and it's an added delight to see the two signatures, each one saying "Charles Todd," but so clearly different in style. I can't ever find any puckers in the Charles Todd books that would reveal conflict between the two as authors, though. And it's simpler to allow my mind to see the author as one person, perhaps middle-aged or a bit older, seated at a worn writing desk in the English countryside, penning the tale. Any moment now, the bell will ring for tea.

No comments: