Hunting Shadows: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery
You should be reading the Ian Rutledge mysteries, even if you don’t enjoy historical mysteries or mysteries in general. Charles Todd --- a mother-and-son writing team --- does an amazing job with each and all of the installments of this softly mesmerizing, quietly riveting series about Rutledge, a damaged and troubled veteran of The Great War who in the post-war year of 1920 is an Inspector for the venerable Scotland Yard. He is accompanied by the hallucinatory spirit of Hamish MacLeod, a soldier who had been under his command and who he had been compelled to execute on the battlefield for refusing to obey an order. MacLeod functions as Rutledge’s conscience, backup and Watson, as well as a constant reminder to Rutledge and the reader that Rutledge is missing an ace and a jack or two.
"Fans of such television series as 'Downton Abbey' will find much to love in the Rutledge series, where the quiet undercurrent of class and station in early 20th-century English society plays a role in ill motives and unintended consequences."
HUNTING SHADOWS is possibly Todd’s most ambitious book so far. It begins with the assassination of two people in small, clannish villages in the English countryside. The first is an Army officer who is attending a wedding; the second is a candidate for a seat in Parliament who is all but assured of election. Both killings, taking place weeks apart from each other, in places miles apart and worlds away from each other, were carried out via a rifle shot executed with deadly accuracy. There is no apparent connection between either man, nothing that would indicate a reason that either or both would be murdered by what appears to be the same individual. Under pressure to solve the case and quickly, Rutledge heads to the Fens, a marsh area.
And it is here where the brilliance of Todd’s craftsmanship is demonstrated. While we may travel in seven-league boots now, travel less than a century ago, even by automobile, did not have the benefit of such things as headlights, GPS, cell phones, AAA, or the like. Though the distance between London and the Fens is less than 80 miles, Rutledge overshoots his initial target and becomes lost in a fog. Such, of course, has its purpose in the story. With Todd, each and every element presented, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, means something. But once Rutledge gets set right, he becomes more and more frustrated, both by the series of dead ends he encounters and the passive-aggressive lack of cooperation with which he is met by some, but not all, of the individuals who might otherwise provide him with the information he needs.
The most likely of the latter is an elderly woman who initially reported that she saw a monster in a nearby tower that was apparently the site of one of the shootings. Her report relates back to an element of Rutledge’s --- and MacLeod’s --- war experiences, but his memory is elusive. Rutledge eventually finds a connection between the two victims and a motive for their murders. Todd, however, cannot resist lobbing a canister or two of mustard gas into the room before the story is complete, giving this tale of greed and revenge an interesting and surprising twist at the conclusion.
Fans of such television programs as “Downton Abbey” will find much to love in the Rutledge series, where the quiet undercurrent of class and station in early 20th-century English society plays a role in ill motives and unintended consequences. With HUNTING SHADOWS, however, one may either come for the atmosphere and stay for the mystery, or vice versa. Either or both are quite satisfying.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2014