Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The War to end all wars ...and murder

A TEST OF WILLS By: Charles Todd, author ISBN: 9780062091611, New York : Harper, 2011., This is the first book in a series that follows the career and life of Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard, a recently returned WWI veteran. As often happens, this is a wonderful series to read, and a challenging one to discuss, because of its complexity, its depth and it’s broad and beautifully drawn setting, physically, psychologically and emotionally. First, though, these are traditional mysteries. The case is meticulously developed, usually through interviews and less formal discussions with involved people. We see each puzzle piece as it is discovered, examined and carefully placed in its position, sometimes correctly, sometimes not (at least, not at first). For those of us who are used to the adrenalin rush of fast action thrillers, this book may feel like a “slow” read, and, in a way it is; but its satisfaction comes from the painstaking search for, and final discovery of the truth of what happened. But this book is much, much more. It is also the story of a terrible war, its aftermath, and its lasting effects on all levels. WWI, perhaps more than any previous war, shattered society, culture, nations, and the lives of individuals, soldiers and civilians alike. We become intimately acquainted with one such soldier, Ian Rutledge, who came home shell shocked, and is still haunted, not just by what he experienced, but by the effects of something he had to do. He is deeply wounded, spiritually and psychologically, by nightmares, by terrible claustrophobia, and by what could be either a mental construction, a sort of hallucination, or something else …but he does not live alone in his mind, and the one who shares it is part enemy, part conscience, and, increasingly, part partner. Inspector Rutledge must solve a case whose solution could have serious political consequences, even destroy his career, and at the same time, he must come to terms with his internal “ghost”. He does, as we might expect, and, along the way, we observe the effects of a war in which most of Europe lost a generation of young men in the space of 4 years has had on those who are left. This book is as intricate and as well planned as one of those jigsaw puzzles with thousands of tiny pieces which, when assembled produce a picture. It is that assembly process, with all its differing components that makes it, and the other books in this series fascinating for me. Each incident and each character has an important place, and also connects to other incidents and characters to form the entire piece. While this is not consciously a literary novel, it is so beautifully written that, without overwhelming the reader, it forms very solid foundation and frame into which all the elements come together.

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