As promised I will now attempt to explain why Charles Todd’s series starring Ian Rutledge is such a must-read. As in other Charles Todd books the series takes place just after WWI. Rutledge is a detective with Scotland Yard. He was on the battlefield in France. His horrible experience in the war is what makes him so unique.
Hopefully what I’m about to tell you doesn’t come as a shock. During WWI deserters, or anyone suspected of deserting, or anyone thinking about deserting was shot on the spot by firing squad if not outright. Usually there was a trial of sorts that might have gone like this:
Officer: What were you doing?
soldier: Shooting myself in the foot so that I can be sent back home and away from this horror.
Officer: Then you are a deserter and I sentence you to death.
Something like that.
Charles Todd doesn’t shy away from hitting the issue head-on. The character Ian Rutledge was an officer. His best-friend was his second in command Hamish MacLeod. Hamish tells him that he “won’t go over the edge” (meaning he won’t lead the men out of the trench and straight into enemy fire, which is what they’d been doing for days.) So after a speedy trial but loathe to do what he must, Rutledge lines up a firing squad. Because everyone like Hamish so much the firing misses anything vital, leaving a bullet riddled but alive man. Rutledge must put a bullet in his best friend’s heart. Just as he does that the bunker where they are is blown up. For three days Rutledge lies under the rubble with his dead friend on his back. His friend’s body creates an air pocket that keeps Rutledge alive. After he is rescued he still hears Hamish’s voice. From that point on he carries his dead friend’s ghost on his back. The ghost Hamish speaks to Rutledge as he investigates murder and mayhem in the many books of the series.
In the latest book “The Confession” the story opens up with a skeletal man coming to Scotland Yard to confess to a murder committed years earlier. The doctor has told him he is dying, he says to Rutledge, and he wants to sleep again so he is confessing. Rutledge considers the confession far-fetched as there has never been a missing person’s report or an unsolved murder in the region of the confessor’s admitted murder. But then the confessor is found murdered and this sends Rutledge into the investigation of the past and the present.
People aren’t who they seem in this story. The Essex marsh village that Rutledge travels to is not a close-knit community but they are a closed-to-strangers community. Rutledge doesn’t get very far in his investigation of the present until people from the past come forward with some disturbing news. Yes, a woman did disappear during the time in question. Her body was never found. But they sure don’t want anyone poking about after all this time. But the man confessed to killing a man. It seems the investigation is stalled, until the missing woman’s niece joins with Rutledge to add more disturbing facts. Her cousin went to war and never came back but was never reported missing or dead by the army. Could this be the man the confessor said he murdered? Or might the cousin be the confessor? Rutledge battles prejudice and outright hostility to get to the truth and finds the truth is quite disturbing. There is someone in the community who would go to any lengths including murder to keep the truth hidden.
So read the series, as each one is a delightful and an intriguing delving into the past. Each books provides a satisfactory story.