Readers first met Ian Rutledge in A Test of
Wills (1996) set in 1919. Rutledge, who left a brilliant
career at Scotland Yard (British national police headquarters)
in 1914 has returned at the end of the Great War, but he is
burdened with the heavy secret that he is still suffering from
shell shock. With him almost constantly is the cynical, taunting
voice of Hamish, a young Scots corporal he was forced to have
executed on the battlefield for refusing to fight.
The following ten stories to date each revisit Rutledge one month after the previous one, following the war-damaged detective on his cases that take him to different parts of rural England. The authors (a mother-son writing team) are consciously following this slow pace because they, like many of their readers, are particularly interested to explore the healing process of their wounded protagonist. They also choose to set each mystery in a village or small town location as "the villages were still more or less prewar, compared to the increasingly modern and sophisticated metropolis, and therefore infinitely more interesting in their variety of reaction to change".
In A False Mirror Rutledge continues to be haunted by his time in the trenches, represented by the voice of Hamish who speaks to Rutledge with warnings and advice. Rutledge is busy on a case involving a murder in Green Park in the center of London when he is suddenly taken off the case and sent to the scenic fishing village of Hampton Regis on the south coast of England, where a man who served under Rutledge at the Somme is accused of brutally beating Matthew Hamilton, a local man and foreign diplomat.
The villagers believe Mallory wants Hamilton dead so he can reclaim Felicity, Mallory's former fiancée who didn't wait for him to return from the war. A scenario that reminds Rutledge of his own wartime abandonment.
Mallory, convinced that he will never get a fair hearing from the local authorities because the evidence against him is circumstantial but compelling, has taken Felicity and her maid hostage and refuses to negotiate with anyone other than Rutledge. Despite his personal dislike of the man, Rutledge becomes convinced that Mallory is innocent and that there is something more sinister and complex behind the brutal beating than is first seen.
For anyone already familiar with this series it should be a given that the authors deliver a neatly packaged plot laced with psychological suspense reminiscent of Agatha Christine, Arthur Conan Doyle and P.D. James, but what raises the series above the mass of historical detective mysteries are the memorable characters, the subtlety of the plot-twists, the evocative, fully-realized settings and, most of all, the war-damaged, painfully slow-healing character of Rutledge himself.
It is possible to delve into this series at any point, but if you wish to read in series order, it is as follows:
This review was originally published in February 2007, and has been updated for the January 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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