RAVE REVIEWS by Jean E. Eustance

The Black Ascot is the newest Ian Rutledge murder mystery by Charles Todd. We have it in the Pine Bush Area Public Library on the new book shelf, upstairs in the adult’s section.

The first few pages are set in 1910, at the Ascot Racecourse in England. Royal Ascot is when the socially-important horse races are held there, not far from Windsor Castle. (Royal Ascot is still held nowadays.) The 1910 Royal Ascot was called the Black Ascot because everyone was supposed to be in mourning for the late King Edward VII, and everyone was to wear black.

This sets the stage for what happens later. The rest of the book begins in January 1921, and Inspector Ian Rutledge from Scotland Yard is told to look over the cold case file of why a wealthy woman was killed in a motorcar, some miles away from the racetrack in 1910. Her suspected murderer may have slipped back into England, recently.

The Ian Rutledge series of mysteries are interesting in that their hero is written with a twist. He was a detective at Scotland Yard, and then he went to serve on the Western Front in World War I.  He came home, and rejoined the Yard, but brought back a secret that only a few know. Rutledge suffers from shell shock or battle fatigue.  (Nowadays it is called post-traumatic stress disorder.)

He had to order the execution of a man in his unit, when Hamish refused to lead the men “over the top” in another useless attempt to retake a few yards of No Man’s Land. Rutledge had tried to reason with him, but in the end had to have him executed for refusing to obey an order. Hamish is dead, but it is Ian Rutledge who has never recovered. He can hear Hamish talking to him, in his head. He thinks that Hamish is sitting behind him when he drives his car, and he cringes every time two fat Chief Inspectors from Scotland Yard take up the entire back seat. He is afraid to look in the rearview mirror because he thinks he will see Hamish’s anguished face.

Most detectives in novels have a sidekick or assistant. One must talk to someone. One must not talk to one’s self alone. It just isn’t done. Ian Rutledge does not have an assistant or sidekick to share his troubles. He has Hamish, in his head, all the time. Sometimes it is sad, sometimes it is wry, and sometimes it is very funny.

On the cases that Rutledge covers, Hamish tends to have insights which Rutledge doesn’t have. He also says the most embarrassing “asides,” usually something like “Don’t trust that woman!” Hamish sometimes yells “Ware!” meaning “Beware!” when someone is aiming a gun at Rutledge.  The detective has learned to duck when Hamish yells “Ware!”

All the books in the series are intricately detailed, and the detective goes around and talks to all sorts of folk, all of whom come across as real people. If the books were “food,” I would say that they were dense and chewy. This is not light-weight froth, and the reader must be prepared to settle down and read strongly. The books feel real, despite the premise that our hero is hearing a voice in his head.

Charles Todd is the pen name of a mother-son partnership. They have written 21 books about Ian Rutledge, and 10 about his friend Bess Crawford.  Bess occasionally appears in a book about Rutledge.

Pine Bush Area Library has a few of the more recent Ian Rutledge books and about 5 of the Bess Crawford books. Come in and see what we have and settle in for a good read.

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