Tag Archives: Charles Todd

Two Disappointing Products of Book Churning.

English: The Crystal Palace in 1910, London
English: The Crystal Palace in 1910, London (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here it is Wednesday, time for another book review. I’m afraid it isn’t pretty.

Charles Todd has been one of my favorite writers for years. The Ian Rutledge series and the Bess Crawford series are a pleasure to read. At least until Proof of Guilt entered this reader’s world.

An unidentified body turns up in London with a man’s watch that can be identified as having belonged to a wine merchant. The body is a victim of a hit and run but the accident happened elsewhere and the victim moved. And the body is not that of the wine merchant. No, he has disappeared though.

The story shambles all over the place with the lead investigator, Ian Rutledge driving back and forth all over England. There was one exciting part near the end of the book, which I thought would turn the story into a good one, but when the scene was over so was the excitement. I never did figure out the point of the mystery. And where was the missing man? Does this imply that we will see this shadowy figure again, as in a future villain? Or was there no point in his body never turning up?

I am sadly disappointed in all of this. Does it mean we have come to the end of Ian Rutledge as one of the most innovative characters in fiction today? I hope not. I hope this was a bubble in a wonderful series. Perhaps mother and son team Todd’s editor needs to give them a break from this stereotypical churning out of one book a year business.

Another sad entry into this category is my other favorite author’s new book.

Deborah Crombie’s  latest is called The Sound of Broken Glass. It isn’t quite as pointless as the above example but there were times while reading it that I thought it could have been about half as long as it was.

For one thing the characters don’t seem to be cohesive to the story until everything is tied up at the end.

A lawyer turns up dead in an odd and disturbing way. He has ties to the world of music. There are some guys in a band. There is one in particular who seems to be a suspect. There are flashbacks in italics to a young boy’s point of view of growing up in Crystal Palace.

I love the setting details and the factual bits about the Crystal Palace at the beginning of each chapter. I love to learn things when I read. Another thing I love about her series of books is the continuing interesting relationship between Duncan and Gemma and their growing family of kids and dogs. This always add such a warm point of human interest you can’t help but love, love, love her books.

But of all her Duncan and Gemma series of books this is the weakest. I really believe this is a result of a constant pressure to produce at least a book a year. That pressure is set up by her editors and agents, probably because of a perceived demand by the public. Sadly, it isn’t unusual. I saw it with the series with Kay Scarpetta written by Patricia Cornwell.

There is a demand by the public! But it will go away if the product isn’t up to the standard set by wonderful previous books.

The Confession by Charles Todd

English: Street view of the Victorian Norman S...
English: Street view of the Victorian Norman Shaw Buildings on the Victoria Embankment, Westminster, London, previously home of New Scotland Yard, which opened there in November 1890, near the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster (Big Ben). In 1967, New Scotland Yard moved to the 20-story building at 10 Broadway. Architect: Richard Norman Shaw. Source: photo, edited to remove people from sidewalks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

The Murder Stone by Charles Todd

English: Toilet paper, orientation "under...
English: Toilet paper, orientation “under” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought I would post a book remark every Wednesday. After chasing the toddling grandgirl around to: a) reroll twenty yards of toilet paper; b) mop spilled tea (from my cup), tumped water (from papaw’s bedside cup), sopped milk (from her how-DID-she-get-the-top-off bottle) AND liquidy chicken muck (don’t ask); c) keep the crayons inside the room where we do crayons; d) keep her from attempting the ‘down’ on the stairs, which she wants to do very badly but my heart is in my mouth while watching her do it; and then to  juggle laundry, dishes, and recording old music tapes to the computer while watching The Wiggles on the TV …  time got away from me and I missed Wednesday. No, I mean, I don’t know where Wednesday went, because this is Thursday.

I read The Murder Stone by Charles Todd. To be honest after  beginning the book I didn’t know if I could finish it. I have read everything this author (a mother/son team) has written. My thoughts were that it must be a really early book. Everything else they’ve written is good and for this reason I plowed ahead.

Pros: The book is well-conceived. When the plot does pick up – the story ties together well.

Cons: It starts out very complicated. There are three pages of characters. And some of their names are similar. I was getting Francesca and Francis mixed up. Perhaps all the characters didn’t need to be so introduced? Because the more I read, the more understanding dawned. Personal opinion – skip the character list.

Francis Hatton is an old man who dies at the beginning of the story. The story is closely told third person by the granddaughter Francesca Hatton. She may be the central character but the story is actually about the old man. Even after death some things in the past have a way of coming back around to make things ugly. At the old man’s funeral several characters pop up. One young man insists that Francis Hatton killed his mother and secretly buried her. Another wants a mysterious box, another demands that his property be returned to him. All very strange for the granddaughter who doesn’t know why so many mysteries surround the grandfather she thought she knew but learns she really doesn’t. Soon she even begins to question her own origins. Is she really his granddaughter?

The central mystery, the death of the woman, concerns Francesca especially after she develops feelings for the woman’s son.  Set during WWI (which most of Charles Todd’s stories are) this stand-alone book really picks up about mid-way through. The ending is a surprise, which I still find hard to fathom. Though I liked the word play that I didn’t catch until literally the last line of the manuscript.

I would give this book a mid-range rating C + and only because it is written by Charles Todd – and probably for that reason alone. The author’s other books are much more amazing. I love the Bess Crawford series – can’t wait for the next one. I love the Rutledge series. More on Rutledge later.

Bess Crawford is a WWI nurse who is blown into the water with the sinking of her hospital ship and miraculously survives. She continues her job as nurse in France and then becomes a sleuth as mysterious goings-on happen around her. Unidentifiable bodies, concealed identities, kidnapping, murder happen during war, too. The way the writers bring out the colors of WWI from this character’s POV is amazing. I highly recommend these books: A Duty to the Dead, An Impartial Witness, A Bitter Truth, An Unmarked Grave.

Below I’ve included links to some great reviews of some of the above books. I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I didn’t.

Bess Crawford book series by Charles Todd – rating Top of the Heap!