8 September 2009

Review: A TEST OF WILLS, Charles Todd

Harper Collins Publishers, 1996, ISBN 978-0-06-124284-7, 305 pages.

The Great War is over, and Ian Rutledge has survived. He's come back to London Yard to pick up the brilliant career he left in late 1914. But though he's survived he hasn't come through unscathed. He's suffering from shell shock, the legacy of the Somme where he was buried alive, subsequently spending time in a psychiatric hospital. And he carries with him memories that he can't escape.

Rutledge is turning out to be a problem for Superintendent Bowles, his superior at Scotland Yard. Bowles dislikes Rutledge, his education, his reputation as a war hero, and his pre-war history as an intuitive clever detective.

So the request from Warwickshire for help in managing the investigation into the murder of Colonel Harris seems as if heaven sent. The most obvious suspect is a much decorated pilot, a favourite of the Queen's no less, and so the policeman who brings him to trial will be very unpopular.

A TEST OF WILLS is the first in the Ian Rutledge series, written by mother and son team Caroline and Charles Todd. I have already "read" #3 in the series SEARCH THE DARK, and #10, A PALE HORSE, but in both cases I had listened to them as an audio book narrated by Simon Prebble. I enjoyed them both immensely, but the question I asked at the end of my review of SEARCH THE DARK was how far my enjoyment was being determined by the excellent narrator.

I'm pleased to report that A TEST OF WILLS came up to the mark of the other two.

The story is a fascinating exploration of crime in a world already shattered by the First World War. Everyone in Upper Streetham, the village where the murder has taken place, assumes that Rutledge somehow escaped service. And now he threatens the fragile stability they've achieved, by trying to pin the murder on their local hero. And how could the Colonel have survived the war only to be so viciously murdered on his own land? At the same time Rutledge is fighting his own battle, tormented by the voice of "Hamish in his head", determined that he will solve this crime, but struggling to recapture his detection skills.

A TEST OF WILLS, with an ambiguous title, is crime fiction in Golden Age style. When I first discovered Charles Todd, I was surprised to find that this mother and son duo were Americans. For me they capture a British style pretty well, although in this novel I noticed the use of "plow", but that sort of slip is a rare occurrence.

One good thing from my point of view: there are another 9 titles in this series for me to catch up with, and they've embarked on a new series (A Duty to the Dead (2009) with a new protagonist!

My rating 4.8

From Fantastic Fiction:

Charles Todd is a pen name used by the American authors Caroline and Charles Todd. This mother-and-son writing team lives in the eastern United States, in North Carolina and Delaware, respectively. The pseudonymous mystery authors are best known for a series of novels, set in post World War I England. These intelligent and literate books deal with the cases of Inspector Ian Rutledge, a veteran of the European campaigns who is attempting to pick up the pieces of his Scotland Yard career. However, he must keep his greatest burden a secret. Suffering from shell shock, he lives with the constant cynical, taunting voice of Hamish MacLeod....

The series:
1. A Test of Wills (1996)
2. Wings of Fire (1998)
3. Search the Dark (1999)
4. Legacy of the Dead (2000)
5. Watchers of Time (2001)
6. A Fearsome Doubt (2002)
7. A Cold Treachery (2005)
8. A Long Shadow (2006)
9. A False Mirror (2007)
10. A Pale Horse (2008)
11. A Matter of Justice (2009)
12. The Red Door (2010)

Charles Todd's website contains promos for each of the books, plus a chance to read an extract for each.


Bernadette said...

Sounds good Kerrie, I would like to read this as I enjoyed Search the Dark. Was there a difference in reading the printed book versus listening to this character and his world?

Kerrie said...

I think I enjoyed listening marginally more - does that make sense?

Liz said...

I've not heard of this series, though I've read a few books in another series also set post WWI -- Jacqueline Winspear, is the author's name, I think. The heroine is Maisie Dobbs.

And I frequnetly prefer listening to a series than reading them! I listened to almost all the "Cat Who" books, loved listening to the Amelia Peabody novels and prefer listening to the Vince Flynn and JA Jance mysteries that way, too. It's a different experience!

Next up for me is more of a thriller of international intrigue than a crime novel -- not sure if you like those as well. It's "Three Kisses, by Heath Daniels. It looks like it will be a quick-paced read, which is just how I like my thrillers!

Kerrie said...

Thanks for the name of the author Liz - new to me- I'll add it to my list

Cathy said...

I started reading the Ian Rutledge series with A Test of Wills, and it was a winner right out of the box. I've read about 5 books in the series, and I have to admit that it's been a while since I've gone back. Why? I've gotten tired of Hamish. I think that was one reason why I was excited about the new series with Bess Crawford.

Kerrie said...

I wondered whether that would happen Cathy.
Let me know what the new series is like

Sarah said...

I admit, I'm not much of a fan of crime fic, but I probably haven't read any good ones.

This does sound good. The WWI background with psychological themes might be enough to lure in a hardened crime fic avoider. And I'm hardly that!


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