I picked up another Charles Todd mystery at the library recently, and it made me wonder again about all this writing about the time between World War I and World War II. Todd has set "his" books in that time, as does Jacqueline Winspear. Laurie R. King sets some of her Mary Russell stories in that time frame as well. It doesn't seem -- Gatsby notwithstanding -- a very attractive period in Western history. Maybe it's attractive as a literary setting because it's far enough in the past so there are few people around with first hand experiences, but for which there is good and accessible documentation of the time. (I especially think of the descriptions of material culture in the Masie Dobbs stories.)
In any case, this book was not a Bess Crawford mystery, but an Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery. I read one of these before and liked it, with reservations. Looking back, I have some of the same reservations about Wings of Fire.
Inspector Ian Rutledge is a WWI veteran suffering what we'd now call a severe case of PTSD. It gets in his way, but -- stiff upper lip and all -- he tries to push through and do the investigations he has to do. Interestingly, but less so than the first time around, Rutledge carries a memory that is a constant voice in his head commenting on what's going on. It's sort of like a Greek chorus, but I thought it became tiresome.
I wrote about A Test of Wills (the Rutledge mystery that preceded this one), "Rutledge's investigation seems to reach the same conclusions as the local one did, but he can't tie up all the loose ends. The voice in his head taunts him. People tell him only what they think is relevant. He keeps probing to find out what they are keeping from him. Of course, he's relentless."
Well, I found slight differences in Wings of Fire, but hardly enough to note. It's just a variation on the earlier story.
There's a textbook I'm familiar with in which the first third of the book endeavors to explain theory and concepts before it tackles the subject matter those things apply to. I find it difficult to deal with because I best understand the methodology when it's applied. (I also know that other people want all the abstract stuff organized in their heads before they tackle real-world topics.)
Well, the last third of this book is an extended unwinding of the mystery that only Ian Rutledge (even in his damaged condition) has figured out. Well, one of the murdered people had figured it out, but her letter explaining things wasn't found until after Rutledge had unraveled the mystery. That last third of the book was not much fun for me. I'd figured out what Rutledge had long before he had the climactic meeting with the bad guy. When I read A Test of Wills, I wrote that I was dissatisfied with the resolution. Same here. If another Charles Todd novel falls into my hands, I'll probably begin reading it. I don't know if I'd slog through another resolution like this one.
So, have you read Wings of Fire or another of Charles Todd's novels? What did you think? Write and tell this little bit of the world about your reactions.
- Charles Todd's home page
- An interview with Caroline and Charles Todd in January Magazine
- Lee Gilmore's review at The Mystery Reader