Caroline and Charles Todd are a mother and son writing team who specialize in mysteries set in Britain and France during and immediately after the FirCaroline and Charles Todd are a mother and son writing team who specialize in mysteries set in Britain and France during and immediately after the First World War. Their Bess Crawford mysteries follow the adventures of the intrepid WWI nurse as she unravels murder mysteries both at home and while serving in France. The Ian Rutledge series is a darker, more atmospheric one, set in post-war Britain and featuring a veteran who struggles with his demons from the war. Ian Rutledge returned from the war ready to lose himself in his work for Scotland Yard. His superior is not happy to have him back and tries, at every opportunity, to send him off to work on those cases that have the least chance of resolution and are preferably located farthest from London. And this enables us, as readers, to venture into those parts of the UK that we might otherwise have missed.
In this, the 16th in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, the Inspector is sent to the Fens to find a mysterious rifleman who shot an Army officer outside of Ely Cathedral where a society wedding was about to take place. But Rutledge was sent only after a second shooting, this time of a political candidate, which occurred in a nearby town. This shooting was also committed in public as nearby residents gathered to hear the politician speak. A witness claims that the shooter, whom she glimpsed in a window, was a "monster."
Two shootings, apparently unconnected, except that they were both committed using a rifle in a public place. A rifle that should have been turned in when the troops left France at the end of the war.
So Rutledge cranks up his motorcar and heads up to Cambridgeshire. On his way to Ely, the fog closes in so densely that he can no longer see to drive. Getting out of the car, he is led to a nearby house by a stranger, who then disappears into the fog.
And that is a pretty clear definition of this mystery, where strangers, suspects, appear and disappear and all clues are shrouded in a clinging, heavy fog. There are no DNA samples, and the single physical clue will remain meaningless until the killer is found. The detecting in this novel is done through dialog as Inspector Rutledge, with some help from the local police, tracks down possible suspects, or those who might have some tangental information on either death that could tie them together. The two victims, one a social climbing Army officer, and the other a well liked local politician seem to have nothing in common except their service during the war. But they shared that with most men of their age in the UK. It is up to Rutledge to find what connects them to each other and to the murderer.
This satisfying mystery takes place in the flat marshlands of eastern England; its horizon dotted with the decaying windmills that were used to drain the Fens before being replaced by coal powered steam engine pumps. The flat surface allows the fog to roll in and violent storms to rage across the land, unhindered by any hills or valleys.
Todd deftly includes the details that flesh out how life was lived in the late teens and early twenties. He evokes the post-war atmosphere at home, as lonely young women are consigned to spinsterhood in the absence of marriageable men. Post traumatic stress disorder plagues our protagonist, who is still hearing the faint voice of Hamish, the young Scot who served under him and was shot for refusal to obey orders. Todd does a much better job of portraying Rutledge's torment in this novel than he did in his first of the series, A Test of Wills.
A Test of Wills was one of those books I struggled to finish. As fascinating as I find that era, and as good a job as Todd does in using it as a setting, the Hamish thing left me cold. It felt too much like a "hook," a way for the author to distinguish his work from others of the same era. Since I don't believe in ghosts, I never found Hamish believable. I felt that a voice so realistic would be more symptomatic of schizophrenia than of battle fatigue, shell shock or PTSD. It irritated me and took me completely out of the story.
In Hunting Shadows Hamish makes far fewer appearances, and those not as intrusive. The flashbacks and nightmares that Ian Rutledge experiences are more than enough to make his trauma obvious without the need for the voice of a dead Scot. And the mystery itself is well constructed and told. It really needs no other hook. ...more
I'm not generally a fan of this type of fiction, and thought the P.D.James effort to be an abysmal failure. Which is why I was so pleased to find thisI'm not generally a fan of this type of fiction, and thought the P.D.James effort to be an abysmal failure. Which is why I was so pleased to find this gem. What I hated most about the James novel was completely lacking here: there was no false notes of "do you remember such and such?", there was no heavy-handed clumsy attempt at imitation.
This is a skillful, flowing tale told as Jane Austen would have told it had she lived and been so inclined. From the first words, Austen's influence is clear:
"The death of Mrs. Bates, a very old lady whose hearing had long since gone and who had spent her last few months either in her bedroom or sitting in her chair in the parlor, would have gone unremarked in London, where people spent their time discussing fashion, nobility, and the latest offering at the theatre. In Bath her decease might have been mentioned as a piece of dull news, before the residents and visitors resumed discussing who had been seen at the Pump Room during the day or who was giving a whist party that night. In Highbury, however, Mrs. Bates's passing was an event which was talked over in every house, both great and small. They wondered about her last hours, hoped that their own ends would be so peaceful, and discussed what they had heard about the funeral arrangements. To the romantic, a death may not hold the same fascination as the hopes for a wedding, but just as young ones begin, old lives must end."
Even the Chapter names are dead ringers, like "Excursions of a Lively Mind," or "Sketches From the Past." The same examination and illumination of manners and social pretense that Austen excelled at are present in The Highbury Murders. Plus, there is a mystery. Yes, a real live mystery.
If you are interested in a light hearted cozy mystery and a visit with old friends, you will probably enjoy this book. ...more
It amazes me how publishers are willing to print just about anything written by a best selling author. And apparently, in the case of Death Comes to PIt amazes me how publishers are willing to print just about anything written by a best selling author. And apparently, in the case of Death Comes to Pemberley, without even bothering to edit it. Although I am not sure that an editor could have saved this silly piece of something, I would have felt better if they had tried.The professional critics also amazed me, and made me long to get my hands on a copy of the book they were reading, because I did not recognize this one in the reviews at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the LA Times. I found little to praise and much to bemoan. What they may not have noticed is that had an editor been found to cut so much of the repetition and pointless exposition this book could possibly have become a charming novella and homage to Jane Austen. It could not have gotten any worse. As it stands now, it is difficult to read and even more difficult to believe.
Starting with Elizabeth Darcy nee Bennet. What happened to the overly confident, intelligent, insightful heroine who found “delight in the absurd”? How did she become the woman who meekly stood by and allowed the housekeeper to order her about in the presence of her guests as if she were Daphne du Maurier’s unnamed narrator in Rebecca?
“I will sit with Mrs. Wickham until Dr. McFee arrives, madam. I expect he will give her something to calm her and make her sleep. I suggest that you and Mrs. Bingley go back to the music room to wait; you will be comfortable there and the fire has been made up. Stoughton will stay at the door and keep watch, and he will let you and Mrs. Bingley know as soon as the chaise comes into sight. And if Mr. Wickham and Captain Denny are discovered on the road, there will be room in the chaise for the whole party, although it will not perhaps be the most comfortable of journeys. I expect the gentlemen will need something hot to eat when they do return, but I doubt, madam, whether Mr. Wickham and Captain Denny will wish to stay for refreshments. Once Mr. Wickham knows that his wife is safe, he and his friend will surely want to continue their journey. I think Pratt said that they were on their way to the King’s Arms at Lambton.”
This is simply wrong. Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet would have been telling the housekeeper what she wanted done and how she wanted it done. She had been Mrs. Darcy for six years, surely a woman of Elizabeth’s intelligence would have learned how to order a household by now and would not have tolerated being treated like a child. The character created by PD James wonders if the housekeeper “was being deliberately reassuring.”
Who is this person with Elizabeth Darcy’s name? She appears as nothing but a foil for the others and is perhaps the most passive character in the novel.On the morning after a dead body is found in the woods of Pemberley, Darcy and Elizabeth both feel the need to address the servants. PD James apparently thinks it is important for us to know this and to remember it as she repeats it four or five times, even including it twice in the same paragraph:
"...love, I think it is time for us to speak to the staff, both the indoor servants and those who may be working in the house. Mrs. Reynolds and Stoughton will have told them only that there has been an accident and the ball has been cancelled, and there will be considerable alarm and anxiety. I will ring for Mrs. Reynolds now and say that we will come down to speak to them in the servants’ hall …"
Why not just go down and speak to them? The long heralded "talk" reveals nothing that has not already been discussed and provides no illumination of either the characters or the action. The elevation of mundane information is repeated throughout the novel, seemingly without reason.
Like the candles. Yes, candles. The body of Capt. Denny is placed on the table of the gunroom. When the authorities arrive at Pemberley, they are taken to view it. But first we must detour into a discussion of candles. Three pages of talk about how many candles they need, what kind of candles they are, how many are already in the gunroom (fourteen, we are told) and if the use of dining room candles will upset the housekeeper and the butler (?!?). I wondered whether the number and type of candles was a red herring placed in the path of the solution to the mystery or if it was simply James’ way of reminding us ignorant readers of the the 21st century that they had no electricity in 1803. I believe it to be the later. Or perhaps she had a minimum word quota to meet.
This repetition continues throughout the novel, as scenes and activities are described by multiple characters with minor differences between the accounts. Testimony given to the magistrate is repeated at the inquest, and then again at the trial. Really, we need to hear three times that the horses did not want to enter the woods?
And there is way too much of the amateurish “do remind me” and “do you remember when” manner of adding details from the original Pride & Prejudice to this story. As if anyone other than a die-hard Jane Austen fan would be reading Death Comes to Pemberley. And if someone was unfamiliar with that novel, these trips down memory lane would hardly enlighten them. Either way, it would cause the action to slow, if there was any action to speak of. Which there really isn't.
The mystery itself is surprisingly weak, especially coming from PD James. Much as I love mysteries, I don't like being able to figure them out in the first few chapters. There were times, I confess, that I found myself wondering who really wrote this book? Was it a hoax, or was a ghost being overly helpful? And really, what book were those professional critics reviewing?
I strongly recommend that those who have not yet spent the money on Death Comes to Pemberley to not spend it. Do not check it out of the library. Do not download the sample to your nook or kindle. If you love Jane Austen's people and their stories, read her books. They are free to download from multiple sources. ...more