A Test of Wills by Charles Todd

6 November, 2009

A Test of Wills by Charles Todd

My first book for the Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge and it feels good! I feel virtuous when I actually read a book from my TBR shelf, instead of staring at the spines pulsating with potential stories and then turning to my newly acquired secondhand and library books. It’s a bit like reading a mouthwatering cookbook and then making some spicy instant ramen afterwards.

I am obsessively drawn to stories set in the interwar years and am forever checking out book blogs and amazon to find as many as I can. If they are mysteries, it’s even better as they combine two of my favourite subjects! I first came across Charles Todd when I was browsing for books on the internet (as you do on a rainy evening) and found that he was actually a mother and son team writing crime novels set in post WWI UK. So I promptly got the first in his series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge, as I like reading my series in sequence. But then I began to read John Lawton’s excellent Blackout which is a crime novel set during WWII with lots of darkness, action and an attractive but troubled leading detective with a penchant for the ladies. Because of this, I got sidetracked into reading other genres as I like to mix and match my reading material, and didn’t get a chance to try A Test of Wills until this month.

I’m both sad and glad I waited because I wish I had discovered Todd earlier but then I’m glad because now I have a whole new series to look forward to and there are 12 books in the series. A Test of Wills begins with the murder of a decorated war hero with an impeccable reputation in a small town recovering from the war. He leaves behind a beautiful ward who is about to marry one of his friends, a much acclaimed and decorated flying ace who has been celebrated in parliamentary and royal circles. This proves problematic as the two men were last seen having a viscious argument, and the last thing the government needs is one of their heroes being accused of bloody murder.

The story was incredibly good and very character driven. Like Christie’s novels, you have the usual stereotypes inhabiting the quintessential English village, but there is an edge of darkness to them which you won’t find in St. Mary Mead. The best thing about the book, however, was Inspector Ian Rutledge sent from London to solve the case. He is a damaged man, a survivor of the trenches, who has returned to Scotland Yard to resume what was once a glittering career. He has his demons, and I won’t give it away, but it certainly surprised me. Todd’s treatment of shell-shock is thought-provoking and I don’t think I’ve read anything like it anywhere else. There is a barely supressed tension in all the characters that vibrate from the pages, and although I wasn’t too surprised by the dénouement, there were enough suitable suspects to keep you wondering who the murderer is until the end.

I’m really glad I came across this series and really look forward to reading the rest one by one. Todd has just published the first book in a new series featuring WWI nurse Bess Crawford which also looks very inviting…

For those of you wondering what I’m doing writing my blog when I should be furiously tapping away and expanding my word count on my Nano novel, I’m trying, believe me, I’m trying. I’m just a little stuck on the main plot which has become rather convoluted due to my laziness in outlining before actually writing, so today I will be sitting down with a double espresso and writing that d**ned outline.

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