Saturday, January 08, 2011

Charles Todd, A LONELY DEATH: Post World War I British

Inspector Ian Rutledge, as a member of Scotland Yard and, equally importantly, a man who can mingle with the wealthy while empathizing with those trapped on the bottom rungs, is one of the few series detectives who moves from volume to volume without a close partner -- unless you count the voice of Hamish in his mind, as startling and sometimes deafening to him as sounds in the rooms around him, but acknowledged as part of his post-traumatic stress, known at the time as "shell shock."

In the newest volume of Rutledge's investigations, son-and-mother author team "Charles Todd" confronts the lonely investigator with a series of inescapable pressures: First there's the complex and brutal set of murders in a seaside town, where Rutledge is expected to handle crossed jurisdictions, social strains, and the usual keeping of secrets that delays identifying a serial murderer. Then there's the always present pain of England's Great War -- the one that crushed its people into poverty and destroyed the hopes and health of so many young men. Third is the imminent death of an old friend of his, a veteran whose lungs are failing from the poisonous gas exposures sustained in battle -- and whose death seems likely to follow, very quickly, the death of another former soldier who has clearly killed himself. Rutledge's pity for these men mingles with his own psychic anguish. And let's add nastiness among his colleagues, and a costly awakening of his own heart.

The Todd authors are expert at braiding these together into a smooth and often intense narrative. This time, Rutledge's anguish isn't as focused on the bitter voice of Hamish in his head. So perhaps it's easier for him to notice and "hear" the insights of the people around him this time -- like the doctor who examines the murder victims and posits that the killer may be seeking (and getting) intense personal satisfaction from the deaths:
A fascinating point. Rutledge looked at Thompson, reassessing this portly, backwater doctor who had such insight into a killer's mind.

Thompson, who must have guessed what Rutledge was thinking, smiled grimly. "I was in the war myself. I know what men are capable of doing to each other. I have no illusions on that score. I also discovered that some of them enjoyed it. That may be what you're facing here, someone who misses the thrill of stalking and killing. Someone who has discovered he can't live without it. Blood lust, Inspector, isn't something only the lower animals experience."
When the uneasy balance of stresses goes out of kilter on this case, the inspector must pay with a particularly painful dose of torture himself -- yet even here, Rutledge finds more information to help evaluate the possible roots of the deaths in wartime violence and loss.

Charles Todd presents an expertly polished crime novel here, showing that a series really can continue strongly. And if I missed a bit of the intensity of Rutledge's former internal battling with Hamish in A LONELY DEATH, perhaps it's because, in 1920, the war-maimed inspector is coming to grips with his inner demons. Or perhaps they will destroy him completely, as his defenses finally are lowered.


Kit Minden said...

Is this book available from Kingdom Books?

Beth Kanell said...

hi Kit -- Give us 24 hours; what usually happens is, I read and savor a book, take some time to think about it, then post a review. Then I pass the actual physical book to my husband Dave, who evaluates its condition (even a new book sometimes has issues that we want to flag for serious collectors), and Dave will set a price and list the book with our ABE listings. Sorry to keep you waiting on this one! We do have quite a few other Charles Todd books listed, too -- have you read some of these? Have a favorite you'd like to mention?

You can browse our listings at ABE Books by choosing Kingdom Books as bookseller -- here's a link that will do it for you (also it's in the right-hand column of the blog):