Sometimes in browsing the shelves you come across books that you have been meaning to read, and the fact of having the work in hand leads you to check it out. That was the case when I found myself pulling Charles Todd’s A Test of Wills off the shelves. I have always been fascinated by the First World War, perhaps because here in the U.S. it is much less-studied than other periods in American history. In any case, when I first heard about Todd’s mystery series featuring a shell-shocked WW I veteran as a detective and set in England just after the Armistice I was pretty sure that I would find the books interesting. That was indeed the case, as after taking home the first in the series, I quickly checked out all the others and read them over a couple of weeks.
Although the solution of the crime is an important part of the story here, what was equally compelling to me was the portrait that Todd develops of a man who is deeply scarred by his experiences of the war and haunted by a decision that he had to make. As an officer in the British Army, Ian Rutledge did his best to lead his Scottish troops in ways that preserved both their lives and their dignity, no small task in the trenches in France. Compounding the horrors of trench warfare that linger in Rutledge’s mind is the constant presence of the voice of a soldier, Hamish MacLeod, that Rutledge had to have executed for refusing to follow orders. Throughout the stories, MacLeod is present, at least in Rutledge’s mind and ear, commenting on what is happening, and reminding Rutledge of the cost of making decisions. This is a sometimes bleak and somber series, but Todd creates a compassionate and thoughtful picture of a man dealing as best he can with the dark side of his nature. The books also have a strong sense of place, and readers who enjoy English settings will find much to like here.
Check the WRL catalog for A Test of Wills