Customer Review

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Rutledge mystery yet, December 17, 2008
This review is from: A Matter of Justice: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery (Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries) (Hardcover)
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A MATTER OF JUSTICE by Charles Todd

Oddly enough, a good review is harder to write than a bad one, particularly if a book "worked". And this one worked for me so it is hard to pick it apart and talk about the various elements.

I'm a huge fan of Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries. They are classic "underdog" tales of a man struggling against impossible odds. Rutledge is fighting internal demons brought on by shell shock, in the form of the ghostly voice and presence of Hamish. Then there is his boss who for his own ambition has a personal bias against Rutledge and would rather see him fail than suceed. Finally, there is the evil and chaos of murder. Rutledge has returned to work as a detective as a way to cling to reality and focus his mind, to keep his sanity in post-WWI Great Britain. Puzzling out who may have been driven to kill another human being keeps Rutledge from thinking too much about himself. He has so much against him and this sense of barely clinging on gives the books a great deal of their tension.

A MATTER OF JUSTICE reflects all of these elements, but with a difference that shows the growth of the writer. It's going to be hard to avoid giving too much away, so if this is a little short or mysterious, it is because I do not want to spoil it for other readers.

Overall, the story is very much like previous Rutledge mysteries. Ian Rutledge faces impossible odds, both personal and professional, in solving the strange and puzzling death of Quarles, who post mortem is dressed as a Christmas angel complete with wings, and strung up in a barn. An interesting twist, to be sure.

However, especially in the beginning of the tale, the author has changed the Rutledge formula slightly. One might say Todd has even borrowed intriguing tricks from other mystery series and enhanced them. In fact, some mystery readers may recognize in the first few chapters the technique used in the wildly successful COLUMBO mysteries. In COLUMBO, the tension comes from the viewer (or the reader) knowing who the killer is, poised against Columbo's skill and the fear that the detective may be unable to pin it on the real murderer. The more skillful the killer, the more Columbo has to work to implicate him (or her).

In this book, Todd tips his hand--but not completely--in the first few chapters. He gives us a motive and perhaps a possible murderer of good old Quarles, but the murder plot as conceived by the killer may be too convoluted for success. Even the murderer has his doubts when he sets it in motion. And so, because of the evil Quarles has done, it is just as possible that someone else killed him.

And regardless of who killed him, we totally want Quarles to die. So as a reader, we can understand why someone--possibly more than one someone--might want the man dead.

But despite the beginning, you really don't know who exactly killed Quarles. Hence, the mystery.

And while Todd's technique is changing and improving, his portrayel of Rutledge is also changing. The character of Rutledge is getting stronger, mentally. Although we get glimpses of his ghostly companion, Hamish, they are few and far between-with almost the feel of an afterthought. And that is okay. That aspect in the first few books was a unique twist that gave us a glimpse into the terrible mental damage Rutledge sustained during the war. But just like the world healing around him, he has to change, too.

There is a sense of progress--Rutledge seems stronger in many ways, but he still retains that essential vulnerability that makes him so appealing. He is a man struggling against the odds to solve this outlandish mystery. He has his own problems to sort through. And Todd has also given Rutledge the slightest hint of a romantic interest. Nothing definite yet, but there is a trace of perfume in the air.

So, as a reader, I found this to be more of a classic mystery than some of the previous books. To my delight, there were extraordinary twists and turns, and nothing is quite what it seems. This comment is intended in a "good way" since some of the preceding books were almost more of a character study of Rutledge, wrapped loosely in the vehicle of a mystery. In some cases, Rutledge didn't entirely solve the case, either, and the resolution was rather thrust upon him. Not so, here.

I will not say more for fear of spoiling the tale. Suffice to say, I found this to be the best in the series from a mystery perspective, and still fascinating as a character study. Rutledge is growing and it is interesting to watch his development. He might lose some of his vulnerability, but that does not make him any less appealing.

And in the end, it is still essentially a story about the underdog, and that is always one of my favorite themes.
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