6 August 2016

To Each Our Mysterious Own: A Review of Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge, Bess Crawford

I adore August. June's summer wish list has successfully been ticked, July's demanding beach call, hopefully has been answered, leaving August to each our very own. My flower pots are bursting with colourful mounds, vines drape the contours of the deck, softening hardened lines. Local green grocers display local wares, inspiring me to kick the meat habit, going full veggie on supper. And yet, the allure of the BBQ wins, with sausages, pork chops and chicken delightfully sizzling on the grill as the hot summer nights inspire al fresco dinners. 

August's slothful abundance offers the perfect ambiance for reading. And no summer is complete without this girl tucking into an English mystery novel to fully complete my idealized perception of reading heaven. As readers, we all have our book respite, the genre that eases the tension, providing a secure blanket of reading comfort. The whys to my propensity to blood, death and the English country-side are thankfully not up for enquiry, with this post more a readers guide to all things mystery, less a query into my weirdness. Surely a SF lover of whodunnits must be on a spectrum of oddness, or maybe not, the mystery reading community is as adamantly passionate as us in speculative fiction. Me thinks my geeky ways fit nicely into both.

But what does one do when looking for a proper English mystery? While Dame Agatha is always a cheerful beginning to death, options abound. The mother, son writing team under the nom-de-plume of Charles Todd have honed in upon WWI as backdrop to both of their investigators:  Ian Rutledge, Bess Crawford. In A Test of Wills, we are introduced to Inspector Ian Rutledge, a broken war hero, haunted by the trenches of France, desperate to keep his job and sanity. Sent to investigate the murder of an army colonel, savagely killed while riding through his country estate, Rutledge's struggle with shell-shock impedes his abilities to unwind the truth. Could the war hero, freshly decorated by the King be the murderer? 

Having a natural inquisitiveness regarding the Great War, the world-building in both the Ian Rutledge novels as well as Bess Crawford, have always made these novels an enjoyable experience. Of the two, Bess Crawford mysteries seem the softer of the two streams, less fully realized than the space crafted for Rutledge. But that may be of design, as Bess Crawford, a WWI Battlefield nurse, and daughter to a distinguished soldier would be less able to mimic the professional techniques of a policeman. Her viewpoint as not only Nurse, but a well-educated, sheltered young woman would have little in common with a London-born policeman, raised to follow in his father's lawyerly footsteps. Even though each detective lives within the same timeframe, neither walk the same social pathway. This fundamental difference offers readers a choice:  exploring the workings of post-war England through the eyes of a woman or through the eyes of a man with murder the vehicle by which to accomplish it. 

The novels of Charles Todd offer us a peak into an England, long forgotten but whose pain, pride, love and desires continue to drum to this day. Easy reads as so often the case with the mystery novel, Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford books draw the reader in, treating us with vivid historical details and wonderfully, bloody mysteries to unravel. 

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