55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 1999
I am an avid mystery reader. I am loyal to certain writers -- so much so that I often begin to pick up on their pattern. However, I have found a special place in my heart for historical mysteries -- Anne Perry's two series and the Amelia Peabody series are examples.
Ordinarily, I start to figure it out by the middle. Todd's book not only kept me guessing until the very last page, it satisfied a hunger for historical detail that is not anachronistic.
This book kept me up all night. I simply could not put it down as I found myself thinking about the characters in the dark trying to fall asleep.
I have two of Todd's books and will be ordering a third soon. I recommend the book and the author very highly.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2006
"Wings of Fire" is one of the series of Ian Rutledge mysteries by the author Charles Todd--a mother/son American writing team, in fact, the second in the series. Set in post World War I Britain, these mysteries have as their compelling main character Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard inspector who is the worse for the war, but slowly mending.
In this book, Rutledge is called upon to research a brother and sister double suicide, followed shortly thereafter by a third death in the family. Rutledge travels to the Cornish coast this time, and as in the other books, he travels in the company of his dead sergeant, Hamish, who speaks his mind to Rutledge as he works through the investigation.
This mystery involves a beautiful house by the sea, and is peopled by both the gentry who have lived in that house and the inhabitants of the local village, including the vicar, the doctor and so forth. The house and its setting may remind some readers of "Rebecca", especially since the memory of the home's now dead mistress seems to permeate the proceedings, even as her portrait presides over the drawing room.
The book does not get off to a fast paced start--indeed, it seems a bit slow in the first 100 pages. And for this reader, there is not enough conversation from Hamish in that portion or in the rest of the book. Unlike others in the series, we do not hear much of Hamish's actual words--more often Todd tells us that Hamish was grumbling or making some remark. But we don't "hear" the remark. A pity, that.
I felt that the writing was a tad uneven. I would be bogged down in a section of the book, say, about half of a chapter, and then all of the sudden the pace picked up, the storyline became more compelling, and I was eager to know more. Then, back to the slower pace and, for me, a challenge to get through it to the next, livelier portion.
Occasionally, Todd takes us to a higher plain of psychological and perhaps even theological conversation--several of the interviews Rutledge has with the vicar provide the setting for some of these. They are among the best passages in the book.
Since the work of a famous poet figures in the story, we are also treated to more than prose from Todd's hand, and the sections of verse are deftly done.
The last several chapters are quite good--both as the mystery is revealed and the creativity shown by the author in settings and dialogue. It made me go back and read the first chapter again, once I had finished the final chapter.
This is the second in remarkable series of classic whodunits. The reader will be hooked. And will wish to read all of the Rutledge mysteries, in order. A Test of Wills, Wings of Fire, Search the Dark, Legacy of the Dead, Watchers of Time, A Fearsome Doubt, A Cold Treachery, A Long Shadow. There is also a stand-alone Todd mystery called A Murder Stone, without Rutledge or Hamish. Read more about them at: [...] At one point, that website indicated that a Rutledge book was going to be adapted for the Mystery series on PBS...
Todd intertwines the supporting characters from book to book, so that Rutledge's and Hamish's friends and family you meet herein will appear in subsequent books, at some times, mentioned, and other times, key to the story.
If you find this review helpful you might want to read some of my other reviews, including those on subjects ranging from biography to architecture, as well as religion and fiction.
27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
"Wings of Fire," the second book in the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series, is absolutely outstanding, both as a whodunit and as a developing character study. The protagonist, his unique circumstances, and the period in which the novel is set, are most singular and make this a truly special read. It is 1919 England and the Great War is over. Soldiers have returned to their homes and families. Many are maimed in mind and body. And then there are those who do not return at all.
World War I was devastating for the British people, militarily and psychologically. "In July 1917, at the Battle of Ypres, (better known as the Battle of Passchendaele - Belgium), 70,000 British soldiers died and another 170,000 were wounded." Combined with the disastrous Battle of the Somme, fought in France just a year before, with its 420,000 British casualties (60,000 on the very first day of fighting), the Somme marked "the end of an age of vital optimism in British life that has never been recovered," wrote historian John Keegan in "The First World War." Approximately 720,000 British soldiers, (from the UK alone), were killed in WWI. Then the terrible influenza epidemic of 1918 devastated the country, and all of Europe, killing millions. Although nothing would bring back the relative innocence of life before 1914, people are slowly rebuilding their lives and a society that had been so hideously interrupted as the story opens.
In Scotland Yard, Inspector Ian Rutledge, who was an army officer in France and a survivor of the Somme, has resumed his once promising career, against his doctors' advice. After falling under direct shelling and being buried alive in a frontline trench, he suffered an emotional breakdown - they called it shell shock. Rutledge has not recovered. The doctors told him that hearing voices is not uncommon for a soldier who had undergone such a traumatic incident. It is a way for his mind to accept something of its own creation, in order to conceal what it cannot face otherwise. The particular voice that the Inspector hears is that of Corporal Hamish Macleod, a young Scot who served under him. Macleod had refused to continue fighting and Rutledge was forced to order his execution. Ian knows that if he does not succeed in recovering the skills he had before the war, he may well wind up in a sanitarium for the rest of his life. He is determined to put one foot in front of the other and fight his debilitating illness before it destroys him. Superintendent Bowles, Rutledge's unscrupulous superior, is jealous of his subordinate's pre-war success and has learned of his mental instability. He is determined to see the man fail.
Rudtlege has just returned from Warwickshire, where he solved a gruesome and politically charged murder, ("A Test of Wills"), his first post-war success. He finds that an unknown slasher, who had brutally attacked several women in London's White Chapel area before his trip to Warwickshire, was still on the loose and that the newspapers were resurrecting old Jack the Ripper stories to terrify an already frightened public. When his nemesis, Bowles, asks to see him, Ian expects to be assigned to the slasher case. On the contrary, with all the new publicity, Bowles wants the limelight for himself, and so assigns Rutledge to a seemingly unimportant case in Cornwall. The inspector, exhausted, looks forward to being by the sea.
So he travels south on what is thought to be a fool's errand, to Borcombe on the Cornish coast. A brother and sister from the area's most prominent family had committed double suicide there, in the beautiful country house overlooking the ocean where they had lived together all their relatively short lives. Both were in their 30's at the time of death. Olivia Marlowe had been crippled with poliomyelitis as a child, and although her half brother, Nicholas Cheney, fashioned a brace for her to enable her to get around, sometimes she had a great deal of pain. Another half brother, Stephen FitzHugh died just a few days after the suicides, in the same house, from an accidental fall. Lady Ashford, a politically connected cousin to all three diseased persons, felt there had been a "hasty judgement, and that insufficient consideration had been given to the likelihood of murder" - three suspicious deaths over a period of a few days. She asked Scotland Yard to reopen the case.
From the first, the local constable tells Rutledge that there is absolutely no evidence to support foul play in any of the deaths. Olivia, a reclusive spinster, had been in pain, and although Nicholas was only in his early thirties, he had been gassed at Ypres and suffered terribly at times because of his damaged lungs. Stephen, the third dead family member, had been retrieving some paperwork from the upstairs study and in his rush to leave, he fell down the steps, breaking his neck. He had lost a foot in the war and his balance was off because of it. It is during this discussion that Rutledge learns Olivia Marlowe is, in fact, O. A. Manning, a famous poet whose war poetry had touched him deeply. Her verse had meant so much to him in his darkest hours. Her true identity as the writer had just came to light with her demise. Only Nicholas knew the truth. Rutledge is seriously disturbed by this information, wondering how the woman who wrote such magnificent poems could have killed herself.
Guided by the voice of Hamish, the man he unwillingly had executed on the battlefield, (which is, of course, Rutledge's own unconscious mind), Ian begins to uncover the haunting truths of murder and madness within a family. He realizes how his findings had so effected the entire family for so long, and now will forever change the future of the surviving kin. Here are people who struggled for years against an evil they could not defeat, until one man finally brings them all closure. What haunts Rutledge, and left me so moved, is that he arrived so late to the scene.
Todd's descriptions of post war England, the main characters, the villagers, even the scenery are extraordinary. I also want to mention that bits and pieces of poetry are included in the novel, supposedly Olivia Marlowe's/ O. A. Manning's work. It seems to have been written by Charles Todd. I think it is very good verse - worth taking note of anyway.
Don't be daunted by the number of half brothers, sisters and family history involved in this superbly wrought mystery. There was one mother who married three times. Author Todd does a good job of explaining it all. Oddly, Mr. Todd, who writes like a native of the UK, is an American. I definitely plan to read the third book in the series. Ian Rutledge has become very real to me, as has Hamish. I am rooting for the two to merge and am certainly interested in their further activities. I gave the debut novel 4+ stars. This one is an easy 5. Highly recommended!
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
This is the second of Charles Todd's Inspector Rutledge series, but the first one I read. Having gone back to the first, "A Test of Wills," I can honestly say that this isn't a series I'm going to continue with. Todd's ideas aren't bad, but he draws the stories out endlessly, with Rutledge interviewing and re-interviewing and re-re-interviewing suspects again and again...and not really getting anywhere. And in both books, Rutledge's irrascible Chief Inspector (himself a tired cliche) assigns him the case hoping that he'll screw up and get kicked off the force. Talk about repetitive plotting; in some ways it felt like reading the same book twice. Perhaps this series gets better in subsequent installments, but with so much else to read out there, I won't be finding out.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2011
The author should have the exclamation point removed from his keyboard. Half of the characters sound like hysterics, with their dialogue punctuated this way. I agree with the other reviewer who was irritated by the interview, re-interview, re-re-interview. I wanted to like the idea of Hamish, but ultimately wasn't willing to put up with characters who were jittery and indignant all the time, coupled with plot details that were telegraphed. Maybe this works for someone new to British detectives, but it was a slog for me.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2011
I've been reading Anne Perry and Robin Paige and liking these mysteries set in England in the Victorian/Edwardian eras. This author seemed a natural progression. And, yes, he writes well and his characters are interesting. In Test of Wills, the conclusion was surprising...which is the whole point of a mystery. In this effort, however, it was a great deal of sturm und drang for very little result. I can't figure out why anyone had to accept the murders silently, nor why they were really committed to begin with.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2001
Wings of Fire is Charles Todd's second Ian Rutledge mystery. The sequel to A Test of Wills it goes above and beyond the first. Todd once again crafts a very enthralling and complicated story that is complex and ever changing as are the numerous characters, making for a very exciting read. Inspector Rutledge, still haunted by the voice of a slain soldier, travels to Cornwall, England to look into a double suicide. The deceased are brother and sister, Olivia Marlowe and Nicholas Cheney, members of a very prominent and complicated family, the Treveylans, who are at the very heart of the mystery. Olivia is a famous poet, whose war poetry gave many of the men in the trenches, including Rutledge, a link to reality and sanity. On the surface there appears to be no foul play in the deaths, but as Rutledge digs deeper he discovers a myriad of secrets in the family's history that may be the key to discovering what really happened the night the siblings died. Todd slowly and carefully introduces us to each of the intriguing characters, even those already dead, and brings to life the very large and complicated family. Keeping the many characters straight can sometimes be a daunting task, but you come to realize that each of them has their own importance in the story. Todd gradually brings together a very intricately woven and often confusing story so that everything becomes clear once the truth it revealed. A slow read at times, but once the story gets going a truly captivating book. I would recommend this book anyone who appreciates a well-written mystery.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 1998
Even though the war has been over for a couple years, Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge suffers deep guilt after executing Hamish MacLeod on the battlefield. By 1921, Ian concludes that Hamish's ghost is either haunting him by talking to him from within his head or that his time in the French trenches drove him insane. However, Ian has no time to deal with specters as his rival has him assigned to investigate a family tragedy in Cornwall so that the latter can dig into a series of Ripper-like murders.
Ian goes to Cornwall and learns that two step-siblings committed suicide and a third half-brother accidentally died from a fall. He also finds out that one of the deceased is a renowned poet, whose works has captured the essence of war. He digs into her works to see if a clue to her death might be in one of the poems. Finally, Ian realizes that the family has been hit with a barrage of "accidents" over several decades. Ian knows that a clever killer is on the loose and he must be stopped before someone else becomes his next victim.
Whoever said that "sequels suck" needs to read WINGS OF FIRE. The second Rutledge novel is a fantastic combination of atmosphere, characterization, and a brilliant who-done-it. Like his first novel, A TEST OF WILLS, Charles Todd has written a tremendous historical police procedural that stars a memorable rotagonist still scarred from a brutal war. Both of his novels are worth reading.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2011
The investigation of an apparent double-suicide leads Rutledge into another twisty maze of personal relationships. The tendency for him to become fascinated by one of the women at the center of the plot is in danger of becoming tired very quickly. The author tried to communicate the meaning of one of the victim's poetry to the detective, but without more extensive quotation that was a hard goal to reach. Not without flaws, but still rich enough to keep me wanting more.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2006
This novel, set in England in the early 1920's, is a police procedural in the British tradition: thoughtful, low key, intricate, and a bit lethargic. The protagonist is a Scotland Yard Inspector and psychologically scarred WWI veteran. The central conceit of the character is that he has a voice in his head which is presumably his subconscious but takes the active voice of a Scottish soldier that the protagonist, Ian Rutledge, had to execute against his will during the war.
The setting is Cornwall, and the plot revolves around an extended family of landed gentry that has had, over the course of several decades, a disproportionate number of suicides and death tied to accidents. Our Inspector is sent down to Cornwall by his superior to investigate a double suicide and accidental death, with the aim of getting him out of the way of a murder investigation in London (and isn't this a standard police procedural cliché - get our man away on a fool's errand which he turns into a meaningful and important case). In any event, things proceed as they do in procedurals, as Rutledge uncovers with care circumstances that begin to looks more and more deliberate eventually resulting in the uncovering of our man of evil.
I enjoyed the novel - the descriptions had veracity, both emotionally and empirically. The characters were nicely drawn, and the ultimate driver of the actions of our evildoer unfolded nicely and cogently, with a strong final stage to things. That being said, the novel didn't grip me as entirely as some others of this genre have - but I find that police procedurals have a tend to grow on one as one reads through more and more of an author's library.
I also made the mistake of reading the second in the series, and not the first, which is annoying for three reasons: 1) I thought I had carefully looked and found the initial volume; 2) the subconscious Scottish voice is potentially fascinating but I didn't have the backstory on it, which is presumably in the first novel of the series; and 3) the first novel is out of print, and the folks on eBay want $40 for it, which ain't happening.
Ultimately, I will buy another book in the series, which, at least economically, is what the author and publisher want, and so is in some ways the strongest compliment.
Side note: I couldn't find this in a local bookstore so I went to Amazon for it. I was gratified to find it and buy it as a real $6.99 (!) paperback. Publishers seem to be putting a lot more books into a middle stage, large $12 or so paperback. This is annoying, particularly since with the bigger discounts that hardbacks get, they are only mildly cheaper than the hardbacks. It also seems to me that Amazon makes it difficult to find the cheap paperback version of a novel, even when it is available. I hope this is not true, but I have no doubt that protocols can be written to show more expensive versions of novels first and make it difficult to find the cheaper ones. My experience is that that seems to be the case at Amazon. I hope it is happenstance.