Friday, February 7, 2020

Divided Loyalties

A year ago, I discovered the detective Ian Rutledge and his mother/son duo of creators, who publish under the name Charles Todd. You can find that first post here on this blog, “The Black Ascot,” and more information about Charles Todd and the fictional context of Rutledge’s world in my New Books in Historical Fiction interview from last year.

In short, I was hooked, and for an avid reader like myself few things are more fun than discovering a series that already has twenty books in it—especially when the mysteries are as complex yet ultimately satisfying, the writing as good, and the characters as fascinating and full of human frailty as these.

I wanted to dive in right away, but other interviews and books demanded my time, so it wasn’t until a lucky sale brought the first two Rutledge novels to my e-reader, I found another readily available on Overdrive, and the latest landed in my mailbox as an advance review copy that I was able to follow up. So my main goal here is to report on the latest book, A Divided Loyalty, which came out just this last Tuesday (February 4, 2020). But to me the development of the series is also interesting, and I’ll mention a few words about that in passing.

A Divided Loyalty is clearly the work of an experienced and accomplished team. As someone just beginning a collaboration with another author, I’m in awe at the sophisticated communication that must drive the planning and execution of thirty-five or more novels. In this one, the suspicious death that incites the plot is that of a young woman discovered at Avebury—then (1921) considered a kind of lesser Stonehenge without the popularity of the better-known site.

The local police want nothing to do with the case, and Scotland Yard is called in. But the first detective sent to handle the investigation is not Rutledge, and he insists that he can’t find any evidence that points to a killer or even an identification of the victim. The case rests, but murder cases never close, and in due course the chief superintendent sends Rutledge to revisit the scene of the crime and review the earlier investigation—never a comfortable position to occupy when the man being reviewed stands higher in the department than the one doing the reviewing.

It’s a delightful puzzle, in itself a reason to read this compelling series. But as always in Rutledge’s world there are wheels within wheels: office politics, conflict caused by differences in class and education, city/village confrontations, and always the lingering effects of the Great War—on society as a whole and on its individual members, including Rutledge himself.

This last element—the scars that Rutledge carries from his military service, the sacrifices he made and the decisions he regrets having to make—carries throughout the series and gives it a special edge. It’s already visible in the first book, A Test of Wills, which is itself a fine mystery story and character study although still maturing compared to the later entries in the series. And it pushes the action forward here as well. Or, as Hamish—the inescapable voice in Rutledge’s shell-shocked mind—might put it: “Ye just might learn something from yon policeman.”

And don’t miss my latest New Books in Historical Fiction interview with Joan Schweighardt about her novels Before We Died and Gifts for the Dead, set along the Amazon and Hudson rivers during the first third of the twentieth century. I’ll post about the books in more depth in a couple of weeks.

And if you’d like to learn more about me and how I came to write the fiction I do, check out this interview on Occhi Magazine. Wouldn't you love to see The Golden Lynx turned into a film? I would! And while it may never happen, feel free to leave casting suggestions in the comments. One day, I’ll reveal my picks for Nasan and Daniil.

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