"A Pale Horse"
(Reviewed by Amanda Richards MAY 4, 2008)
“Like the pale horse of the Apocalypse, on his back rode Death”
This slow-paced mystery is set in early twentieth century England. The protagonist is Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard, a man haunted by the ghost of a soldier named Hamish MacLeod, whose voice is his constant companion, conscience and advisor within his head.
The story begins with a group of schoolboys experimenting with alchemy by moonlight in the ruins of an abandoned Abbey. To their horror, they discover that they have apparently raised the devil himself, and swearing each other to secrecy, they run off into the night. The next morning, the body of an unidentified man is discovered in the ruins, dressed in a hooded cloak and gas mask, and next to his foot is a book on alchemy, property of the schoolmaster Albert Crowell.
Thus begins a long investigation into the identity of the dead man, the interrogation of the schoolmaster as a murder suspect, a couple of false trails, and the uncovering of a big cover-up by the British War Office. Along the way, sub-stories relate the circumstances leading to the death of Hamish and also the love life of the Inspector’s sister Frances.
The trail takes Rutledge to a group of tiny houses in Berkshire, his job being to observe a man named Gaylord Partridge. The tourist attraction in the area is a huge figure of a horse, cut into the chalk in prehistoric times, and preserved in perpetuity galloping tirelessly along the hillside. Under the pretext of doing some horsing around on the cliffs, Rutledge learns that Partridge has disappeared, as he has been known to do on occasion, and that the occupants of the cottages all have secrets they’d rather keep hidden.
Amidst conflicts with the War Office, his own office politics and local law enforcement, Rutledge painstakingly pecks away at the armor of the residents of the Tomlin Cottages, and things start heating up both literally and figuratively when arson and murder go hand in hand.A solid read, except for a few questionable plot contrivances, and packed with local color, this story starts off on a high note, and hastens to increase the pace as it wraps up at the end, but dallies too long in the middle for short attention spans.
- Amazon readers rating: from 21 reviews
"A Test of Wills"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie AUG 29, 2005)
A Test of Wills is the first book in the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series, and while this whodunit is good, it is not exceptional. The protagonist, his unique circumstances, and the period in which the novel is set, however, are most unique and make this a very special read. It is 1919 England and the Great War is over. Soldiers have returned to their homes and families. Many are maimed in mind and body. And then there are those who do not return at all. Approximately 720,000 British soldiers, (from the UK alone), were killed in WWI. Then the terrible influenza epidemic of 1918 devastated the country, and all of Europe, killing millions. Although nothing will bring back the relative innocence of life before 1914, people are slowly rebuilding their lives and a society that had been so hideously interrupted.
In Scotland Yard, Inspector Ian Rutledge, who was an army officer in France, is resuming his once promising career. He is also keeping a terrible secret. After falling under direct shelling and being buried alive in a frontline trench, he suffered an emotional breakdown - they called it shell shock. He has not recovered. The doctors told him that hearing voices is not uncommon for a soldier who had undergone such a traumatic incident. It is a way for his mind to "accept something of its own creation, in order to conceal what it cannot face otherwise." The particular voice that the Inspector hears is that of Corporal Hamish Macleod, a young man who had served under him. Macleod had refused to continue fighting and Rutledge ordered his execution. He knows that if he does not succeed in recovering the skills he had before the war, he may well wind up in a sanitarium for the rest of his life. He is determined to put one foot in front of the other and fight his debilitating illness before it destroys him. Superintendent Bowles, Rutledge's unscrupulous superior, is jealous of his subordinate's pre-war success and has learned of his mental instability. He is determined to see the man fail.
In the village of Upper Streetham, Warwickshire, Colonel Charles Harris, an ex-Army officer, has been murdered and the prime suspect is Captain Mark Wilton, a Victoria Cross decorated war hero, friend of the royal family, and fiance to the dead man's ward. When the local police request the aid of Scotland Yard, Bowles assigns the politically charged case to Rutledge.
The Inspector actually does begins to function despite his alter ego's harassment and running commentary. He finds more than one person with a motive to murder the Colonel. The complex psychological study and mystery unfold with much suspense and, although the pace slows at times, the character study of Rutledge more than makes up for any weaknesses in the narrative. The Inspector is a really special character and it is impossible not to like and admire him. His empathy with both victims and suspects is extraordinary. Even under extreme stress, it is clear why he was such a strong leader under fire. In a way he represents a generation of emotionally fragile veterans, trying to resume life after a carnage such as the world had never seen before.
Author Charles Todd writes of Rutledge: "Before the war it had been the case that drove him night and day - partly from a gritty determination that murderers must be found and punished. He had believed deeply in that, with the single-minded idealism of youth and a strong sense of moral duty towards victims who could no longer speak for themselves. But the war had altered his viewpoint, had shown him that the best of men could kill, given the right circumstances, as he himself had done over and over again. Not only the enemy, but his own men, sending them out to be slaughtered even when he had known beyond doubt that they would die and that the order to advance was madness."
Todd's descriptions of post war England, the main characters and the villagers, even the scenery are extraordinary. Oddly, Mr. Todd, who writes like a native of the UK, is an American. I definitely plan to read the second book in the series. Ian Rutledge has become very real to me, as has Hamish. I am rooting for the two to merge and am certainly interested in their further activities.
- Amazon readers rating: from 59 reviews
(back to top)
Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Inspector Ian Rutledge series:
- A Test of Wills (1996)
- Wings of Fire (1998)
- Search the Dark (1999)
- Legacy of the Dead (2000)
- Watchers of Time (2001)
- A Fearsome Doubt (2002)
- A Cold Treachery (2005)
- A Long Shadow (2006)
- A False Mirror (2007)
- A Pale Horse (December 2007)
- A Matter of Justice (December 2008)
- The Red Door (December 2009)
- A Lonely Death (January 2011)
Francesca Hatton series:
- The Murder Stone (2003)
Bess Crawford, British army nurse:
(back to top)
- Official website for Charles Todd
- Crime Pays interview with Charles Todd
- January interview with Charles Todd
- HarperCollins interview with Charles Todd
- Reading Guide for A Test of Wills
- Read excerpt from A Cold Treachery
- Reading Guide for A Long Shadow
- BlogCritics review of A Pale Horse
- MostlyFiction.com review of A Duty to the Dead
(back to top)
About the Author:
Charles and Caroline Todd are a mother and son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States. Caroline has a BA in English Literature and History, and a Masters in International Relations. Charles has a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Business Management, and a culinary arts degree that means he can boil more than water. Caroline has been married (to the same man) for umpteen years, and Charles is divorced.
Charles’s love of history led him to a study of some of the wars that shape it: the American Civil War, WWI and WWII. He enjoys all things nautical, has an international collection of seashells and has sailed most of his life. Charles had a career as a business consultant.
Caroline's wars are World War 1, the Boer War, and the English Civil War, with a sneaking appreciation of the Wars of the Roses as well. When she’s not writing, she’s traveling the world, gardening or painting in oils. Her background in international affairs backs up her interest in world events. She loves the sea but is a poor sailor–Charles inherited his iron stomach from his father. Still, she has never met a beach she didn’t like.
Writing together is a challenge, and both enjoy giving the other a hard time. The famous quote is that in revenge, Charles crashes Caroline’s computer, and Caroline crashes his parties.