So I’m just going to say it: I really love Charles Todd! Todd is the pseudonym for a mother-son writing duo. Recently, I reviewed the latest book in their Bess Crawford series, a thoughtful, entertaining, compelling work. And now, we have Proof of Guilt, the fifteenth in their Ian Rutledge series. I ask you, where has Charles Todd been hiding all my life?
One of my very favorite reads is the murder mystery / period piece hybrid. I’m searching for a term for this very specific sub-genre. It works in the tradition of the cozy mystery but also is feels much like the costume drama of Masterpiece Theater. One acquaintance suggest I use the term “historical homicide,” and maybe I’ll go with that. Truly, I’m a sucker for Agatha Christie, but this is something else. Christie, for the most part, represents her own time period. I’m currently drawn to the contemporary writer who sets his detective character in an era of the past. In this case, Rutledge is working for Scotland Yard in 1920, in the wake of World War I, or simply “The War,” for Rutledge.
Indeed, one compelling thing about Rutledge as a character is the way that his psyche and even his abilities as an Inspector are directly affected by his experiences in the war. The male detective figure is almost required by the genre to be emotionally or psychologically troubled. Sherlock Holmes certainly serves as the archetype for this–he must resort to controlled substances when his mind is not occupied by a case; he seems incapable of healthy interpersonal relationships; he is oddly self-absorbed. These characteristics seem definitive of the archetype of the male detective figure–three of my favorites are Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, P.D. Jame’s Inspector Dalgleish and Iain Rankin’s Rebus. And Rutledge seems to fit within the boundaries and expectations of the archetype: his mind is troubled by his experiences of the war, so much so that he too seems incapable of healthy emotional connections with other humans; further, Rutledge hears the voice of Hamish in his head, the voice of a man he was forced to kill during the war. In these ways, Rutledge as a psychological and character study is just as interesting, maybe even more so, than watching the mystery itself unfold.
And this is the very thing that appeals to me about the world that Todd creates: we are given a picture into the person who has lived through the War and is very much shaped by these experiences. This, then, becomes, at least in part, a study of the effects of warfare on the human psyche and even on the entire culture of England. This is what makes this “historical homicide” work as a period piece, what makes it compelling and interesting and more than just a beach blanket read.
I do find Todd’s writing style to be elegantly spare in this work. While the style is not necessarily poetic in nature, it feels almost minimalist, as though each word is carefully selected and nothing goes to waste. This lends a kind of elegance to the work an elevates it towards something more than just popular fiction.
I know that I will certainly pick up more of Todd’s novels, and if you have an interest in the murder mystery, particularly when it’s oriented towards the period piece, I cannot recommend Todd more highly!
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for inviting me to host a stop on the tour! Check out the rest of the tour here.
NOTE: A free review copy of this work was provided by the publisher. No monetary or other compensation was received.