Monday, January 18, 2010

"Love Made Me Do It": Murder and Detection in THE RED DOOR, Charles Todd, 2010

The Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries by Charles Todd are haunted -- by the losses of World War I, by England's image of what it might have been, by a sense of being too late to prevent death. If that sounds close to today's state of the world (think Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti), well, maybe that's part of why this historical mystery series has such ardent fans. It's good to take our own evils and displace them into another time, as the Great War -- the war to end all wars, people believed -- ended. And while Ian Rutledge tackles his next assignment from his bitter and nasty superior, Superintendent Bowles, he too is haunted, more literally, by the voice of his dead fellow soldier, Hamish. Hamish hates Rutledge, but his warnings often flare just in time to keep the inspector alive in the face of sudden violence. After all, if Rutledge were to die, so would Hamish ... a second time.

In THE RED DOOR, Rutledge grimly acknowledges the words of his doctor: that enduring Hamish's voice may be the price of his own survival. Threats surround him, but this time most of them are focused within the Teller family, whose war wounds are far less obvious. Sorted into loving couples and attentive maiden sisters, the Tellers close ranks against Scotland Yard when Rutledge tries to enlist their cooperation:
"I won't listen to any more of this. It's a hodgepodge of wishful thinking and make-believe. There's not a grain of truth in it!" It was more a cry of pain than of denial.
Rutledge nodded and walked back to his motorcar. He turned it and then drove back up the drive. When he was nearly out of sight of the rose bed, he glanced in his rearview mirror.
Walter Teller was bent over, his arms wrapped around his body, as if he were in pain, his head down. Rutledge was too far away to see his face, but he carried with him the image of a man in agony.
Secrets and costly alliances are all too familiar to the inspector. But death by death, he realizes that this family's motives are more often love than, say, greed or anger. Who are they protecting?

Readers of the series will find Hamish a bit less violent toward Rutledge in this volume; is the vicious bile of his voice waning, or is he merely protecting his own survival? Todd's ending leaves me suspecting that the harsh Scotsman's judgments and pain will erupt with new fury in the sequel.

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