Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Book Review: Lonely Death by Charles Todd

"A Lonely Death" is Charles Todd's 13th Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery. In this outing, set in 1920, Rutledge is sent to Sussex by Scotland Yard to solve a series of murders. Three men, all former soldiers, have been killed with a garrote and had a military identification tag inserted in their mouths. At first glance, it appears that the murders in the small town of Eastfield have their roots in World War I. While Rutledge investigates each clue, like peeling an onion, he discovers that first appearances can be deceiving. After several missteps, Rutledge determines who the killer is, but the killer outwits him and escapes each time Rutledge gets close. In the end, however, when the killer intends to make Rutledge his next victim, Rutledge traps the killer and takes him into custody. Along for the ride, as usual, is Hamish, the ghost of a Scottish soldier, who was killed in the killing fields of the Somme. Rutledge feels responsible for Hamish's death and Hamish has been his constant companion since Rutledge's return from France two years earlier.

Todd maintains the primary story while also having several subplots, including one involving a woman who Rutledge clearly cares for, but can't declare his love because he believes she will reject him due to his psychological scars. Another subplot is the unsolved murder of an unidentified man dumped at Stonehenge that was investigated by another Scotland Yard inspector and Rutledge's friend who has recently retired. Cummins' retirement opens the possibility of a promotion for Rutledge.

Rutledge is a flawed character haunted by the war and the men he sent to their deaths in no man's land. He was buried alive when a German shell fell short. When he was released from the field hospital, he was returned to the hell of the front lines. He believes that the only thing keeping him sane is his job with Scotland Yard. When that is threatened in this outing, he has to decide whether to go on living.

As with each previous book, Todd has Rutledge meticulously investigate each clue as it is presented to him. The reader never knows more than Rutledge. Todd's writing is wonderfully vivid. Their descriptions transport the reader to the countryside of Sussex or to the battlefields of France with equal ease.

Todd is a mother/son writing team who have been publishing together for 14 years. Their story telling is seamless, their plotting interesting, and intense. There is little doubt that Charles Todd is one of the best mystery authors writing today. They are in the company of P.D. James, Laurie R. King, and Louise Penny.

If you want an intelligently written procedural, and haven't read the first 12 books in this series, start with the first book, "A Test of Wills," in which the damaged, conflicted, and complicated Ian Rutledge is introduced. Reading this series in order allows the reader to see both the writers and their character grow and evolve.

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