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A Cold Treachery (Inspector Ian Rutledge) Mass Market Paperback – August 30, 2005
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Integral to most crime tales is the unearthing of concealed and unfavorable facts about suspected malefactors. But the mother-son duo who write under the nom de plume "Charles Todd" are particularly adept, in their historical novels featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, at exploiting painful secrets as tools in developing both character and plot. It's rare, in a Todd tale, that even the innocent should escape unscathed. The authors demonstrate their skills once more in A Cold Treachery, which sends the shell-shocked and lonely Rutledge to probe the winter massacre of a sheep-farming family in northern England, at the same time as he searches for the missing and only witness to that chilling savagery.
"It was beyond comprehension," we're told of the December 1919 violence, near the rustic Lake District town of Urskdale, that left Gerald and Grace Elcott and three of their progeny shot to death. A fourth child, 10-year-old Josh Robinson, is nowhere to be found. He's thought to have fled from the scene, only to have perished in a recent blizzard. Coming off the grim proceedings recalled in A Fearsome Doubt, Rutledge--shackled as always to the nattering ghost of Hamish MacLeod, a Scotsman he'd ordered executed on a World War I battlefield--must determine whether the murderer was a passing stranger, or a local who'd previously concealed his or her aptitude for barbarity--and might kill again. Gerald Elcott's less-successful brother, Paul, has ample motive (hes next in line to inherit their clan's farm), as does Grace's sister, Janet Ashton, who just happens to arrive in Urskdale with a gun in hand (supposedly to protect her sibling from Paul's anger). Yet there's another, more frightening possibility--that Josh, Gerald's stepson, upset by the breakup of his parents, committed these atrocities. Desperate for clues, and with his impatient superior threatening to replace him on this case, Rutledge still can't claim to know who, or what, was behind the carnage.
After their disappointing standalone, The Murder Stone, it's a relief to see the Todd pair return to the "gloomy, defeated and exhausted" postwar England of Ian Rutledge, where no end of dire dramas appear to lurk. Like its half-dozen predecessors, stretching back to A Test of Wills, A Cold Treachery satisfies with its copious period details, characters traumatized by fate and failures, and a bedeviled young protagonist who must solve other people's problems before his own. And even as Hamish seems here to slip further into the background, there's finally the prospect of Rutledge finding companionship of a more corporeal sort. --J. Kingston Pierce
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Traditional mystery lovers who prefer their whodunits enriched with psychological insight will heartily embrace Todd's seventh Inspector Rutledge novel (after 2002's A Fearsome Doubt). Still haunted by the ghost of a corporal whose execution for insubordination he ordered during WWI, Rutledge fights a constant battle to hang on to his sanity by devoting himself to his detective work for Scotland Yard. This time, the brutal massacre of the Elcott family, including two adults and three children, takes him to the Lake District town of Urskdale. While the local authorities prefer to blame an outsider for the murders, the inspector quickly finds the hidden passions churning beneath the stolid surface of the small rustic town. Since one family member, a 10-year-old boy, wasn't found with his relatives' bloody corpses, Rutledge pursues clues suggesting that the missing lad may be either a potential future victim or the killer himself. Todd's ear for dialogue is superb, and he effortlessly conjures up the harsh life of a simple farm community through his vivid characters. As with its predecessors, this novel is imbued with tragic sadness, and Rutledge's struggle with his own demons serves as a moving counterpoint to the searing pain of other characters trapped by circumstances or emotions beyond their control. Perhaps this superb effort will bring Todd an audience to match the deserved critical acclaim he has received. FYI:Todd is the pseudonym of a mother-son writing team.
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My main problem is that the stories start to get bogged down in the middle to end with constant interaction between the townspeople, the local constables, and Inspector Rutledge. Inspector Rutledge is usually in the same situation - with a hard case to solve- too many suspects - weary with little or no sleep - no support from his superiors at Scotland Yard, and so on. This can drag the book down at times with interaction that doesn't seem to be pertinent to the case at hand. In "A Cold Treachery' it was easy to spot 'who did it' up front but it took a great deal of boring and superficial dialog for the murder to be solved.
Despite all that, this particular book works well. The mystery, a gruesome murder of all but one member of a family in a small snow-bound village, is compelling, and Rutledge's investigation seems very real: I can still picture some of the scenes. The setting is cold, stark, and depressing: much like the grim reality of war. But the story works. Of the first six Rutledge mysteries, this one has the most memorable atmosphere and setting. Worth reading.