A Test of Wills – Charles Todd – Eclectic Reader Challenge 2013 – Historical Mystery

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.

a test of wills

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.

Eclectic Reader Challenge – Historical Mystery – The Moonstone

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Read as a part of the Eclectic Reader Challenge

As I have mentioned in this blog before, I enjoy a mystery and while it pleases me when I work out the answer before the end and I can give myself an intellectual pat on the back, it pleases  me more to be ultimately puzzled. I am happy to admit that The Moonstone kept me puzzled for the most part. By the time that the thief is revealed, I had worked it out but Collins had given me all of the clues by this point so it really wasn’t a great feat. Up until that point, I had been fumbling in the dark in the same way that the characters were.

I particularly liked the structure of this book and the way each character adds their own details to the story as well as their own personal view of events. Each character was memorable from Betteredge, with his Robinson Crusoe obsession, to Ezra Jennings with his hidden past; all were interesting, all were distinctive. As the story unfolds, the reader occupies a similar position to Sergeant Cuff, fooled by events as they stand, unable to see the whole picture until much later on. This is a masterful novel that keeps the reader’s interest at all times.

The Moonstone and the trouble it causes in respectable England seem to me to represent the punishment for colonial crimes that the theft of The Moonstone represents. That the precious stone is restored to its proper place is a satisfying ending even though the lengths the Indians go to get the diamond may be unethical. Their sacrifice for the diamond is greater than anything that the other characters go through in the course of the novel.

This theme of past crimes catching up is present throughout the novel – in the form of Ezra Jennings and his mysterious past, Rosanna Spearman and may be the ultimate reason for Franklin Blake to ask for all to give their version of events – so that his past cannot catch up with him and to ensure his good name in the future.

I expected this novel to be good as it had been recommended to me many times but I did not expect it to be so clever, so enjoyable and so satisfying a read. A must read for all fans of detective fiction.