Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Confession

Little pleases me more than a new Charles Todd/Ian Rutledge mystery, and that's just what I have in hand now, The Confession.  Any anglophile would enjoy these stories.  There is the British tendency toward cozy, but tempered with the backstory of WW1 and the damage it inflicted on British society as a whole, along with Scotland Yard Inspector Rutledge's vaguely stern demeanor and his ha'nt, Hamish.  The really brilliant thing about this series is the authors' (yes, that is a plural, Charles Todd is in fact a mother-and-son writing team from North Carolina.  How they manage to do THAT is another mystery) ability to keep the stories from falling into the supernatural pit.  Hamish is a ghost, this we know, but his genesis in WW1 makes such horrific sense that one can accept his presence without having to really suspend disbelief at all. 

The period is good, too -  Rutledge might call it fine, the Todd's have an excellent command of language.  It is not yet our technology-driven society, nor even the blunt force and fast pace of WW2 or Cold War spy v. spy drama.  Rather, it is still a time when Rutledge can say of another inspector whom he's never met "I've heard of him.  A good man.  Very thorough."  (32) - and invest a world of social commentary in those three words, a good man.  Does anyone every use that phrase today?  It is not one that many women in these stories would use, either.  Gender lines, about to blur like so much else, are still quite strictly drawn in the England of 1920. 

The Todds also have a pleasant conceit of setting each story in a different part of the UK - the Lake District, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Sussex, etc. - which is carefully researched and used almost as a character in the story.  The setting informs the story typically with features of landscape, weather, and local character, all layered together to deepen one's immersion in the story.

So, there is a lot to love in a Charles Todd/Ian Rutledge mystery.

But . . .

I have consistently complained about the twisty plots that leaves the reader completely clueless until Rutledge, after a "quiet conversation" here or there, manage to solve the mystery in some dramatic last-minute resolution.  The same is true here in The Confession.  I'm about 3/4 through, and pretty much as clueless as when I started, and I've been looking pretty hard! 

Overall, this is not the strongest of the Todds' efforts with Rutledge.  Hamish is less of a presence - although that may also mean that Rutledge is healing, which is good for him, of course.  More irritatingly, there is a VERY annoying development of cliffhanger chapters.  What is this, The DaVinvi Code?  And they are the worst kind of cliffhanger, where the action resumes in the same scene on the next page!  Gosh I hate that.  Finally, the professional tension that underlies many of the stories - Rutledge's poor relationship with his stupid boss Bowles - is largely missing here as Bowles is in hospital with a heart attack.  I'm just guessing Rutledge gets his job in the end, and while nobody like Old Bowels, the lack of Yard-generated drama emphasizes the oddly flat nature of this story.  Is it because it takes place in a marshy area, Essex, where are few hills?  Hard to say, but at p. 236 I guess I must just have another cup of tea and wait patiently for it all to be revealed. 

One has the sense that the authors may be looking to wrap up the Rutledge series.  All good things must come to an end, I guess.

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