I will make a confession about the Inspector Ian Rutledge books. I have not read as many installments in the chronicle as perhaps I should have. “Charles Todd” is the pseudonym for the mother/son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd, who have collaborated seamlessly as one over the past decade or two on this fine and intriguing series, of which THE CONFESSION is the 14th. Set in the years immediately following the Great War, it is the enigmatic persona of Rutledge, a driven and damaged figure, who dominates the book. Rutledge is a detective inspector with Scotland Yard who is haunted --- literally --- by his combat experiences. Reading THE CONFESSION reminded me of how exquisitely well written these books are, as well as how much I’ve been missing by neglecting the last couple of volumes.
"[I]t is the multilayered characterization of Rutledge and the complex yet expertly navigated plot that makes THE CONFESSION a true winner."
The popularity of the series has grown slowly but steadily to the point where its fan base is approaching the lofty level that the books have deserved since its inception. Rutledge, though outwardly normal, suffers from shell shock, one effect of which is that he constantly hears the voice of Hamish MacLeod, a soldier whom he executed on the battlefield for refusing to obey an order. MacLeod is by turns taunting and informative, acting as the internal voice of Rutledge’s conscience, sixth sense and intuition. Rutledge’s so-called “relationship” with MacLeod is in good stead in THE CONFESSION, wherein Rutledge finds himself involved in one of his oddest cases to date. He is confronted in his office by a gentleman who introduces himself as Wyatt Russell and confesses that he killed a man named Justin Fowler --- his cousin --- some five years before and got away with it. Russell is a bit odd and has little information by which to account for himself.
Rutledge --- having nobody to investigate, let alone information --- begins an inquiry of his own into the matter, an act that leads him to a grand but abandoned home near an isolated village where the murder supposedly took place. The inhabitants are anything but welcome, a fact that piques Rutledge’s personality, to say the least. Of more import, however, is the discovery of Russell’s body some two weeks later, dead as the result of multiple bullet wounds to the head. When Rutledge discovers that Russell is not “Russell” at all, and that Fowler may in fact be very much alive, Rutledge finds himself in the middle of an intriguing and tantalizing mystery that at first seems to have no beginning and no end. Who in fact was “Russell?” Why was he murdered? And why would the man, whoever he is, confess to a murder that does not seem to have occurred?
There are answers to each of these questions, and good ones at that, but to discover them Rutledge will have to dig deeply into the past and work his way through a web of jealousy, deceit, passion and violence. Of course, MacLeod is there to help, such as he can, while Rutledge must quietly and circumspectly navigate his way through the inter-office politics and personalities of Scotland Yard --- even as he tries to keep his personal affairs in order --- before he is able to bring a murderer to a long-delayed justice.
Todd’s early 20th-century England is presented in a first-rate manner --- Rutledge is often stymied by the lack of a telephone, public or cellular ---- and the tedious research that is performed either by himself or by others on his behest makes one appreciate the wonders of the Internet. But it is the multilayered characterization of Rutledge and the complex yet expertly navigated plot that makes THE CONFESSION a true winner. It also inspires my first resolution of the new year, which is to catch up on this fine series.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 6, 2012