A Test of Wills, by Charles Todd
A version of this post originally appeared on April 29, 2023.
I enjoy the occasional mystery, but I'm no aficionado. That would be my mother. Imagine my surprise when I was able to introduce her to the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, starting with A Test of Wills.
After serving in the Great War, the inspector has returned to Scotland Yard, now with a bad case of shell shock. He is haunted by Hamish, a man he killed, though he dare not tell anyone. Societal attitudes toward PTSD in 2023 are still bad, but back then it was tantamount to moral failure and cowardice. Now Rutledge must resume his career with Hamish intruding in his thoughts.
Charles Todd (pseudonym for mother/son team Caroline and Charles Todd) knows how to write a British mystery. In the early chapters, Rutledge drives from London to a stately old English manor. He exits the car and notices a curtain twitching on the second floor. You can picture it, can't you? You've seen this a hundred times on the BBC. And the first person Rutledge interviews is a beautiful woman who seems to be keeping secrets.
One quibble: occasionally the point-of-view character (usually Rutledge, sometimes others) will see someone's facial expression and deduce a range of precise emotions, something like "her eyes flashed, and he could sense indecision mixed with grief and anger." That's borderline cheating as a way to give information to the POV character. I'm not singling out Charles Todd: loads of authors do this, and it's hardly the gravest sin.
Another quibble: on a plausibility scale, where 1 is The Butler Did It and 10 is It Was Aliens, this book comes in at 9. I consulted my mother (who inhaled the whole series within a week) and she says the other mysteries are similarly difficult for the reader to solve. If you're okay with outlandish explanations, there's a whole bunch of books in this series to enjoy. I listened to the first one on audio, narrated by Samuel Gilles.
When Covid first hit, I started doing book talks on social media as a way to keep in touch with people. I never got out of the habit. I don't discuss books by my clients, and if I don't like a book, I won't discuss it at all. While I will sometimes focus on craft or offer gentle critical perspectives, as a matter of professional courtesy, I don't trash writers. Unless they're dead. Then the gloves come off.