on December 26, 2007
Charles Todd, for those who aren't familiar, is a mother and son team of writers who live in the Eastern U.S., and are both of them apparently fervent Anglophiles. They have, for the last decade or so, been collaborating on a series of mysteries chronicling the adventures of Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard. As far as a British mystery series is concerned, these books are very conventional in their structure and setting. Rutledge is almost always somewhere out in the rural British countryside, attempting to discover who killed someone in rather murky surroundings. The similarities to Richard Jury or Adam Dalgliesh are very obvious. There is one significant difference, though, and it's what makes the series stand out: the books are set in the period just after the First World War, and Inspector Rutledge is a veteran of said conflict. Even more unique, he's haunted by the ghost of one of his subordinates, a corporal whom Rutledge had to shoot and kill after the man panicked and tried to run away during a battle. The dead man doesn't blame Rutledge for the incident, not exactly anyway, and serves as a sort of alter ego for Rutledge. You're never entirely certain whether Hamish MacLeod's ghost is really there, or merely a figment of Rutledge's imagination, given that he was horribly scarred psychologically by the war.
In the current episode, Rutledge is first sent to a hamlet of cottages in rural England to find a single man who lives in one of them. The War Office wants the man found for some reason, though they won't tell Scotland Yard why. Rutledge has no luck, really, and is then recalled and sent in a different direction to look into a killing in another rural setting. The two incidents are of course connected, and Rutledge must settle things as further killings occur, and the plot becomes more tangled.
Todd is best with the rural atmosphere of England 80 years ago, and this is one of the better entries in the series. The evocation of the drawing of a horse on a hillside near the cottages is especially spooky. Altogether a good book.
on December 31, 2007
The Inspector Rutledge series from Charles Todd are 3-star and 4-star works: none rises to the level of greatness, none descend to 2-star level. They are decent reads. Pale Horse rates 3 stars: decent, but not memorable, worth keeping rather than donating to your local library. There's no groundbreaking here, nothing we haven't seen in the other Rutledge mysteries. There's an unidentified corpse, some less than professional police work (not by Rutledge), time spent in village pubs by Rutledge speaking to local residents.
There are some things which don't feel quite right. Rutledge spends a great deal of time driving back and forth between London, Yorkshire, Berkshire, and Wales, often late at night. Most other series involving Yard inspectors seem to emphasize travel by train. Yorkshire is 200-plus miles from London, and in 1920 there were no motorways. I would think that few petrol stations would be open late at night. Finding your way around at night would not be that easy, and 6-volt headlights (unlike the current 12-volt systems) did not allow a good rate of speed. Motorcar breakdowns were much more common: cars were not designed for sustained long-distance travel. I often found myself thinking about all this driving rather than the mystery at hand.
The story itself seems rather slow at times, and the denouement seems somewhat anticlimactical as well as centering on some improbable coincidences, and there were some large potholes in the story road, so to speak, that were left unfilled-in. If you haven't read Todd's stories, try some of the other works first. For alternative period pieces--mysteries set just after WW I, try also Winspear's books, and in particular, Airth's fine River of Darkness.
This slow-paced mystery is set in early twentieth century England. The protagonist is Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard, a man haunted by the ghost of a soldier named Hamish MacLeod, whose voice is his constant companion, conscience and advisor within his head.
The story begins with a group of schoolboys experimenting with alchemy by moonlight in the ruins of an abandoned Abbey. To their horror, they discover that they have apparently raised the devil himself, and swearing each other to secrecy, they run off into the night. The next morning, the body of an unidentified man is discovered in the ruins, dressed in a hooded cloak and gas mask, and next to his foot is a book on alchemy, property of the schoolmaster Albert Crowell.
Thus begins a long investigation into the identity of the dead man, the interrogation of the schoolmaster as a murder suspect, a couple of false trails, and the uncovering of a big cover-up by the British War Office. Along the way, sub-stories relate the circumstances leading to the death of Hamish and also the love life of the Inspector's sister Frances.
The trail takes Rutledge to a group of tiny houses in Berkshire, his job being to observe a man named Gaylord Partridge. The tourist attraction in the area is a huge figure of a horse, cut into the chalk in prehistoric times, and preserved in perpetuity galloping tirelessly along the hillside. Under the pretext of doing some horsing around on the cliffs, Rutledge learns that Partridge has disappeared, as he has been known to do on occasion, and that the occupants of the cottages all have secrets they'd rather keep hidden.
Amidst conflicts with the War Office, his own office politics and local law enforcement, Rutledge painstakingly pecks away at the armor of the residents of the Tomlin Cottages, and things start heating up both literally and figuratively when arson and murder go hand in hand.
A solid read, except for a few questionable plot contrivances, and packed with local color, this story starts off on a high note, and hastens to increase the pace as it wraps up at the end, but dallies too long in the middle for short attention spans.
Amanda Richards, April 13, 2008
on February 1, 2008
Having read all of the Charles Todd books, I have to say that this one was disappointing. Rutledge is still an appealing character, but the rest of the cast is sort of anonymous and interchangeable. Too many characters, too lightly sketched. At one point I actually couldn't remember who one of the female characters was, and the pair of sisters who are prominent in the plot were confusingly alike. The men really blurred together in my mind, except for the vindictive policeman. When the body count began to rise, I literally couldn't remember which victim was which.
So while I like the series very much, I'd like to see them advance Rutledge's personal life a bit and develop the characters into more distinct individuals. A friend of mine who also reads these novels said she thinks that Rutledge is stuck in neutral, and I have to agree.
on December 26, 2007
In 1920 five kids arrive at abandoned Yorkshire's Fountains Abbey with an alchemy book they stole from their school. They plan to perform a ritual to raise the devil, but instead flee in fear leaving behind the purloined tome. The next day a corpse wearing a gas mask is found near the book.
Scotland Yard sends troubled Inspector Ian Rutledge to identify the victim as the War Office has an interest in the body too. Although the Great War to end all wars may be over, Ian still suffers from battle fatigue feeling guilty for what he did and saw. His inquiries of the nearby villagers are met with suspicion as each seems to have something to hide. The alchemy book belongs to a conscientious objector schoolmaster, but he also offers little. As deceit seems the norm, Ian struggles to learn the truth while the pale horse of the Apocalypse reminds the shell shocked detective that death is the final frontier.
A PALE HORSE is a fantastic whodunit due to the mentally battered hero whose only respite from the ghost that disturbs him is investigating as this is what he did before he became an unrecognized war "casualty". The story line is fast-paced, but totally owned by Ian even as the audience obtains a deep look at an English village still reeling from the war. This haunting post WWI series remains one of the best historical police procedurals on the market today.
on May 13, 2008
Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge, a man who is literally and figuratively haunted by his experiences in the first world war, remains an appealing hero. However, as the Inspector Rutledge series lengthens, several basic elements of the stories really need to find some resolution.
In "A Pale Horse," the Scotland Yard inspector is charged with determining, on behalf of the army, the whereabouts of a mysterious man named Partridge who lives in an isolated cluster of cottages near the famous White Horse--an outline carved into the chalk hillside in prehistoric times. He returns to London, only to be sent to assist the local police in a death in Yorkshire. Is the dead man in Yorkshire connected with the missing man in Tomlin? No prize for giving the correct answer. And certainly coincidences are aplenty here, oppressively so.
The first section of the novel is chiefly devoted to the story of the obsessively vindictive Inspector with whom Rutledge deals in Yorkshire. This portion is never satisfactorily joined to the main action of the book, which centers on the area near the white horse and the village of Tomlin. A subplot involving Rutledge's sister Frances moves fitfully through the work (involving yet another coincidence), only to be dealt with in a very cursory fashion at the end. A female character who has figured in another Rutledge novel makes a few brief and enigmatic appearances in this one. Perhaps these latter issues will be dealt with further in a subsequent series entry, but when this happens too frequently, it doesn't so much interest the reader in reading the future novel, as much as make him or her irritated at the present one. The book rolls on to its conclusion without particularly drawing us in to care very much about any of the characters, with the exception perhaps of the Tomlin blacksmith Andrew Slater, who is nicely fleshed out.
The single biggest problem in the series as it stands is Rutledge's relationship with his personal ghost, Hamish, the spirit of a man Rutledge was compelled to execute by firing squad during World War I. Hamish functions as scourge, advisor, and, on occasion, companion. Todd has developed this mechanism very thoughtfully, but it is beginning to wear thin. I feel like strangling Hamish myself. Will Rutledge ever be able to exorcise Hamish? Will Todd choose to open up the novels by resolving this issue and taking Rutledge in some new direction? I hope so.
I'd also like to see Rutledge turn the tables on his ever hostile supervisor. Bowles's enmity is growing tired as a device for maintaining Rutledge's status quo.
If you already are a Rutledge fan, "A Pale Horse" offers the usual very good entertainment of the atmosphere of post-world-war England, nice local color, good page-to-page writing, and an engaging hero. But if you haven't read any of the series before, I'd go back and start at the beginning. The early novels have a freshness and an inspiration this one lacks.
on May 30, 2015
A man who is of interest to the British War Office has disappeared. He is a chemist whose work during World War I was so secret that the War Office withholds information about what he did or even his real name. But they want someone to go and try to find what has happened to him. Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Rutledge.
It's not the first time his superiors have sent him on what appears to be a "mission impossible" since he returned to his job just over a year ago after having suffered shell shock during the war and being hospitalized after it. In spite of the demons that haunt him and the constant presence in his head of Hamish, the Scottish soldier whom he executed at the front for failure to obey orders, Rutledge is a very good investigator and in spite of the ill will of his supervisor, Superintendent Bowles, he's been able to solve every case that has been assigned to him. This one, though, begins to look like it may be unsolvable.
Rutledge heads out to Berkshire, to a group of cottages standing in the shadow of a great white horse cut into the chalk hillside, where the missing man lived. He discovers a group of inhabitants who are outcasts, all of whom are hiding from something in their past. In that, the man who went by the name of Partridge fit right in.
Rutledge learns that Partridge had a habit of wandering off from time to time and so no one has really missed him or worried about him, but then the inhabitants of these cottages don't really interact with or take an interest in each other, so why would they worry?
At length, Rutledge learns that the body of a man wrapped in a cloak with his face covered by a gas mask has been found in the ruins of Yorkshire's Fountain Abbey, and he goes to investigate. He comes to suspect that the body may be that of the missing man, but how did he wind up in Yorkshire, far afield from his cottage in Berkshire? There is no easy explanation.
The local policeman in charge has convinced himself, for his own selfish reasons of revenge, that the dead man is one who, years before, had accidentally scarred the face of a local woman while he was in a drunken stupor. He wants to believe that the woman's husband, the local schoolmaster who was a conscientious objector during the war, has killed this man. The policeman's motives are based in the fact that he once wanted to marry the woman who was scarred and she turned him down in favor of the schoolmaster. This angle of the plot never was really resolved to my satisfaction. It was just sort of left hanging when Rutledge's investigation veered off into another avenue. It was one of my few complaints about the book.
Rutledge's investigation eventually leads him to an estate called Partridge Fields which had been the home of a family named Parkinson. It seems that Parkinson was the true name of the missing man. His wife was long dead, a suicide, but there were two daughters; however, these daughters are not easy to locate and once located, they are so filled with hatred of their father that they are uncooperative in discovering the truth.
In fact, that's another of my complaints about these books. Everyone in these villages, from the occupants to the local police, is always uncooperative and downright obstructive with Rutledge's investigations. He seems like such a caring and competent man that it is a mystery to me why everyone seems so obstreperous and deceptive in his presence.
Ah, well, nothing can really obstruct him for long. We know that, in the end, Rutledge will solve another case and will again receive no appreciation of that fact from the execrable Superintendent Bowles. What will it ever take to finally have his brilliance recognized?
on March 8, 2008
The weakest of all the books. Does the author not know the law? Rutledge knows the identity of the murder victim (and has proof from independent identification of the sketch) and yet allows another policeman (Madsen) to hold an innocent man who could not have killed him (a phone call would have fixed this problem)? By sleight of hand, the innocent guy is then charged with a murder of a missing man(Shoreham)when no body has been found or whether he is really missing? What a major flaw! The book gives great evidence of being hurriedly written. What a big disappointment--this flaw is so major that I stopped reading at the halfway point.
on March 18, 2011
This is the 10th installment of the inspector Rutledge series, which started with "A Test of Wills" in 1996. The series, which features Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard, is set in England just after the First World War. The author, Charles Todd, is actually two Americans - David Todd Watjen and his mother, Carolyn L. T. Watjen. As usual, the Todds do an excellent job of portraying England after the Great War and the affects that the war had on the country.
Rutledge is sent to two rural areas, Yorkshire and Berkshire, to investigate a murder and a missing person. He encounters more murders, fires, car chases and confessions. Unfortunately, even with all of that action, the pacing is much too slow. There are also too many characters to keep track of and there are a few unnecessary subplots that serve no purpose. When I finally reached the end, it did not make a lot of sense. When I went back and dissected the plot in my mind, I found that the connection between the first murder, the missing person and the subsequent murders were because of one enormous coincidence. There were also many other actions of the characters that just did not ring true.
Because of the local color and because I've enjoyed the previous books in this series, I'm being generous in giving "A Pale Horse" 3 stars. Hopefully, the Todds will get back to their original form in the next installment.
on November 2, 2015
I enjoyed A Pale Horse and like the character Ian Rutledge. While there are some motifs in the book that are repetitive from other works in the series, A Pale Horse was still an entertaining read and kept me guessing as to who the murderer might be. I'm hoping in future books (I've lost count of how many books I've read in in this series), we will see Ian and his sister, France's, develop further in their personal lives so the writing can stay fresh. The Ian Rutledge books are still my favorite escape literature.