Hunting Shadows Review
Charles Todd is one of my favorite authors right now. (Yes, I know it’s actually a mother/son writing team, but that’s complicated to explain, so I’m just going with author.) He writes in the circa WWI period that I’m so dreadfully fond of. The Bess Crawford series is set during the war. Bess is a nurse and the first book opens with the sinking of the Britannic, so the series isn’t pulling any punches. For all that, it’s actually the more hopeful of the two series. Bess is strong, young, and, despite the horrors she witnesses, she still has faith in justice and human decency. Beth solves crimes because she can and because she cannot abide for them to go unsolved.
Ian Rutledge, on the other hand, is a Scotland Yard detective in the 1920’s. He was an officer during the war and has returned home with a severe case of shell shock, which takes the form of a ghost from his past. Hamish MacLeod was Ian’s corporal and best friend on the battlefield until he disobeyed a direct order. Ian had no choice, but to execute. Now, Ian’s guilt has manifested itself as Hamish’s ghost. Although the ghost proves helpful in Rutledge’s cases, often warning him of danger, it is only so that Ian cannot die to escape his guilt. Rutledge investigates because he is driven to. He is altogether a less restful companion than Bess even though she is the one most likely to come under shelling at any moment.
Hunting Shadows is the sixteenth Ian Rutledge mystery (Out January 21 from Harper Collins). A sniper has murdered two men; one at a society wedding outside Ely Cathedral and one at a political rally in a small village nearby. Rutledge is sent with instructions to wrap the case up quickly, but clues are remarkably hard to come by. The only witness to glimpse the murderer describes him as a monster and the local police refuse to credit her story. There is nothing linking the two men; one was career army and the other served the Navy as a civilian consultant in Edinburgh during the war before returning home to take up his law practice.
Ian is sure that the answer must lie with the war some how. A single suspect rises above the others, one who was in love with the wife of the first victim, but there is nothing tying him to the second corpse. Instinct insists that Rutledge delve deeper, but with pressures mounting from Scotland Yard, does he have the time to indulge his feelings, feelings that have betrayed him more than once?
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was not quite as grim as some of Todd’s books in this series. There was, as usual, plenty of background information on the war, this time focusing on the snipers. Snipers were, apparently, considered sort of dirty among the British ranks. It wasn’t the thing to shoot at someone who didn’t know you were there. The outraged sense of fair play may have been helped along by the fact that the Germans were employing snipers very efficiently.
I am, by no means, a military historian. I do read extensively in the time period, both modern stories set in the circa-WWI era and fiction written in and around the time. I think Wilfred Owen and a trip to the Imperial War Museum in London are to blame for my interest in the period. Well, and the fact that my Mother was obsessed with WWII. I couldn’t be interested in the same thing she was, so I devoted my attention to the preceding war. And I like the fashions.
As an aside, one of my favorite authors, Mary Robinette Kowal, has a WWI book coming out in 2016 (I think), called, for the moment, Ghost Talkers. As she describes it, the spiritualist movement works exactly as advertised so the War Office can get immediate updates from the front. I cannot tell you how excited I am about reading this book. And it kills me a little that I won’t get to for two years.