If you are as fascinated by this period as I am you will want to read the new Charles Todd mystery, “The Confession” (William Morrow), which follows a Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge who is still fighting the psychological demons of his war service as he tries to solve an exceptionally complex murder case.
“The Confession” is the 14th book in a series of mysteries about Rutledge which have been gathering more new readers with each installment. The books bring the post-World War I period to vivid life, are masterfully plotted, and feature one of the most fascinating sleuths in contemporary crime fiction.
“Charles Todd” is actually a mother-and-son writing duo — Charles and Caroline Todd — who together have created a seamless voice in books that perfectly balance history, character and storytelling.
One of the most daring elements in the series is the continuing presence of a Scottish soldier who died alongside Ian in the war. Depending on your own point of view, Hamish can be taken as a ghost or a more literal form of conscience in Rutledge’s mind — Hamish guides Ian, warns him of dangers ahead, and helps the detective sort through the complexities of each new case.
When I first heard about this device, I worried that it could turn the books into tales of the supernatural that might be a little too hokey for me, but Hamish is used with great precision — “he” also provides the stories with an ever-present reminder that Rutledge is still carrying the scars of the war, including treatment for shell shock.
The mystery in “The Confession” is a puzzle worthy of Agatha Christie, involving a man dying of stomach cancer who comes to Rutledge to confess a murder during the war. The confessor won’t tell the Scotland Yard detective much more than where the crime happened — a coastal village east of London — and before Rutledge can find out much more, the mysterious man is murdered and dumped in the Thames.
The oddities quickly start piling up — the man was not who he claimed to be, so why was he implicating someone else in a crime? And since he was in the final stages of cancer, why did someone bother to make his life even shorter?
Rutledge visits the village where the first murder supposedly took place — the rather creepy hamlet of Furnham — and begins to suspect a much larger crime (and mystery) in which the whole town might be implicated.
“The Confession” is in the historical mystery genre, but there is nothing musty about the Todds’ approach to the past — it’s another superb entry in one of the best continuing series in crime fiction.