Monday, December 9, 2013

Legacy of the Dead by Charles Todd: A review

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Legacy of the Dead is the fourth in Charles Todd's Inspector Ian Rutledge series. This is an intelligently written, literate series about a veteran of the trench warfare in France during World War I who, after the war, is trying to pick up the pieces of his life and his career at Scotland Yard.

But he carries the burden of a dark secret - namely, that he still suffers from the effects of shell-shock, as it was then known, post-traumatic stress disorder as we call it today. He carries with him the persona of a young Scots soldier named Hamish McLeod, whom he had to have executed on the battlefield for his refusal to obey an order. Hamish's cynical, taunting voice is a constant presence in his mind. One of the strengths of these books is that they deal with the issue of PTSD in a very sensitive fashion.

Ian Rutledge's superior at Scotland Yard is a very jealous man and he prefers to keep the skilled investigator Rutledge as far away as he can, so he always sends him out of town on cases at every opportunity.

This time, he is sent to Scotland which is where many of the ghosts that haunt Rutledge rest uneasily. This will not be a comfortable assignment for him.

The case that he is sent to investigate involves the weathered remains of a woman that have been discovered on a Scottish mountainside. The police believe they may be those of Eleanor Gray, a young woman from high society who has not been heard from in three years. Her mother, Lady Maude Gray, a woman of imperious bearing and ties to the British crown, professes not to believe that the bones are those of her daughter, and her objections must be handled delicately. Just the sort of thing that Inspector Rutledge excels at!

The real problem is that there is a young woman in jail who is accused of having killed the woman whose body was found and that young woman turns out to be a shocking surprise to both Rutledge and his mental companion Hamish.

We follow Rutledge through his examination of the evidence and his interviewing of many potential witnesses in the small and very insular Scottish town. He perceives early on that the accused woman, who has been enduring a campaign of slanderous anonymous letters sent to her neighbors, has become a scapegoat. He is sure that she is innocent and he hopes to be able to prove it and save her from the hangman.

There are several surprising turns in this well-written book and perhaps the most surprising is saved for the last. The plot is intricately planned and executed and it keeps the reader guessing and turning those pages right up to the end. It's easy to see why this was a "best novel" nominee for the Anthony Award when it was published in 2001.

"Charles Todd" is actually two people, Caroline and Charles Todd, a mother and son writing team. They have been very prolific. They actually have two series going, as well as stand-alone books. The Ian Rutledge series has at least ten more books, and counting, which just means lots of good reading ahead for me!


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