Friday, April 19, 2013
Wings of Fire by Charles Todd: A review
Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard is a psychological mess. He fought in the trenches of France in World War I and was grievously injured. Now physically recovered (more or less), he has returned to work and has already managed to crack one difficult case in A Test of Wills.
Before the war, Rutledge was a rising star at the Yard and that engendered envy from some of his cohorts and from his superior, Bowles. Bowles takes every opportunity to send the Inspector on out-of-town cases. He particularly wants to get him out of town now because of a recent Ripper-style killing spree in London and the likelihood that the detective who cracks the case will become a celebrity. Bowles is determined that it won't be Rutledge.
His chance comes when three members of an influential family in a small Cornwall village die within a short span of time. Two are ruled suicides and one an accident. But a member of the family has her doubts and she prevails upon the Home Office to send someone from Scotland Yard to investigate. Guess who Bowles chooses?
In the village, Rutledge learns that one of the dead is "O.A. Manning," nom de plume of a reclusive writer whose poetry helped to sustain him during the war. He is surprised to learn that the poet was a woman. She and her brother, who lived with her, are the suicides. Another brother, who had lost part of his foot in the war, fell down the stairs while the family was clearing out the house. His death was the accident.
Rutledge is a highly intuitive investigator and he intuits almost immediately that there are many family secrets here and that there is more to these deaths than the inquests determined, but will he ever be able to prove it? Will he ever be able to dig up long-hidden secrets and reveal the truth, not just about these three deaths but several others that have haunted the family over the years?
One of the more interesting aspects of these Rutledge mysteries is his own psychological state. He carries with him the memory and the voice of a young Scot named Hamish whom he was forced to have executed on the battlefield. Hamish now haunts his every waking hour. He serves as something of a voice of conscience to the Inspector. It is a tormenting voice that forces Rutledge to face truths that he would perhaps rather not face.
Rutledge is further haunted by the memory of the fiancee who deserted him after he came home from the war a changed man. She was the love of his life - at least he thought she was - and that love was another thing which kept him going and helped him face his wounds and recover. But the fiancee proved lacking in courage and in love and she could not face a life with a wounded man who was not the perfect specimen she had sent off to battle. Still, Rutledge finds it hard to get her out of his heart and out of his mind. As I said, he's a mess.
The mother and son writing team that writes under the name "Charles Todd" has created an interesting and complicated character in Ian Rutledge. This is the second book in their series featuring him and the reader feels that there are depths still to be explored in the several books that follow this one.
Incidentally, I can't help drawing comparisons between this series and Jacqueline Winspear's "Maisie Dobbs" series. They take place in the same time frame and place and explore some of the same issues - the state of English society after the war and the psychological damage done both to those who fought the war and those who waited on the home front. They are both well-done series and worth reading for anyone interested in that period or anyone interested in the history of understanding and treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or shell shock as the post-World War I society knew it.