Historical mystery – Eclectic Reader Challenge 2013
There are a lot of good things about this book. The setting is convincing – just after the first world war – and many of the characters are still recovering from it. The main character, Inspector Ian Rutledge, is himself suffering from the ongoing effects of shell shock and has the voice of a Scottish soldier, Hamish, forever criticising him inside his head. There were interesting moral dilemmas as well as an early suspect was a decorated war hero and the evidence against him came from another soldier who was in the process of drinking himself to death and the townsfolk considered him a coward due believing he was only pretending tp suffer from shell shock to avoid fighting. The attitude towards him seems appalling now but was certainly the prevalent view at the time. Indeed, Rutledge is very careful to keep the extent of his own problems a secret or else risk losing his position in Scotland Yard.
So far, so interesting and I started reading full of anticipation, expecting complications – because every reader of detective fiction knows that there is no such thing as an open and shut case – and there were plenty. And then somewhere, about halfway through, I started to get a little weary. First of all, Rutledge’s character began to seem a little unchanging. He gave nothing away and even Hamish’s comments started to lose their startling effect. Some of his conversations with witnesses or potential suspects seemed repetitive as he tried to get to the bottom of the story and no one would open up to him. Secondly, the other characters were all a little wearing. Perhaps, it was to do with the setting – the prim English village just after the first world war – but everybody was just a little careful and that got on my nerves.
In terms of the plot, there were some very interesting twists and turns along the way, some I saw coming, some not. The idea of shell shock and its effect is played out in a number of different ways – all of which are interesting and some particularly disturbing. Indeed, the moment the reader finds out exactly who Hamish was and why he died, is one of genuine emotional power and a highpoint in the novel.
However, the ending seemed a little rushed and after all the painstaking work seemed more like luck than good judgement on Rutledge’s part. It was an interesting ending but not, from my point of view, a completely satisfying one.