It's August of 1920, in the Fen country of England. World War I is barely over, and the soldiers who survived will never be over it. As wedding guests gather outside a cathedral, an unseen gunman picks off a wedding guest with a rifle and a German sighting device that only a soldier would use. The following month, a local aspiring parliament candidate is killed, again with a single rifle shot by an unseen assailant.
Scotland Yard is called, and Ian Rutledge is on the case. He takes to his motorcar, as much to avoid a new impatient superintendent as to get to the root of things, and sets out on a quest to find out how the victims are related, and who the culprit could be.
Poor Ian Rutledge. He's a brilliant Scotland Yard detective yet he's haunted by his past, is shell-shocked (which is seen as a shameful affliction), has the talking ghost of deceased soldier Hamish MacLeod always in his head, is loathed by most everyone in the department, has no love life, and is apparently the person to whom everyone tells lies.
Yet he perseveres.
He's nothing, if not stubborn. Rutledge perseveres and unravels a tale so complex that you might need to make a chart of the characters to keep them straight. Yet Todd takes all those threads and storylines and subplots and weaves them and weaves them until the mysteries (because there are many) are solved.
This is the 16th of the Todd's Ian Rutledge series. But fear not. You don't need to read all the previous ones to understand the characters or what is going on. You can jump in at book 16 and, if you become addicted as I have, you can go back and read the previous works, in no particular order.
That being said, here is my top ten list of the things that are great about Ian Rutledge and "Hunting Shadows":
10. It's a great historical mystery. Set in another time and place, the book captures the era and the surrounds beautifully, from cranking up the car to fog so thick you could walk into a windmill and be knocked senseless. Rutledge relies on early investigative techniques... like searching the damp grass for footprints to determine when the suspect was there.
9. After you listen to Hamish, the voice that follows Rutledge everywhere, you will finally be able to translate some Scottish brogue and possibly decipher the Dorothy Sayers novel that thwarted me years ago. (Don't list it as one of your languages on FaceBook, however.)
8. It's not easy taking tying so many storylines together and keeping so many families and characters straight. Charles Todd does it.
7. Oh what a tangled web... The murderer will probably surprise you. I was surprised, but it all made sense... in a tangled way.
6. If you like twisted back-story, the Fen country and its inhabitants will fascinate.
5. Who's who? How were the murder victims connected? Who bears grudges to them both? Why? Who is actually related to whom? What are the connections between these seemingly unconnected people? The connections and stories long-buried intrigue.
4. World War I. The war to end all wars. After the horrors of subsequent wars, we sometimes forget what a devastating war it was, and how those who fought in it and survived were forever damaged. It's a good lesson to remember and Charles Todd always reminds us well.
3. The Fen country. It's dark and foggy and wet and mysterious. Have you tumbled into Hobbit-land? Nope. It's a marshy region in Eastern England, drained centuries ago, which produced a lowland agricultural region... with a few resident ghosts and mysteries. The Hound of the Baskervilles doesn't actually live there, but his cousin might.
2. The characters. Ian Rutledge doesn't work and play well with others at the Yard, has only extinguished tragic love affairs, and is carrying around the ghost of a dead soldier. The people he meets along the way all seem tragically damaged, too, each in different ways. It's a cast of characters you wouldn't want to have over for dinner, but they're definitely an interesting bunch.
1. Charles Todd continues to evolve as a writer (or writers, since they're a mother and son team). They have written another compelling story - dark, tragic, filled with suspense, mystery and complex characters. If you are a fan of twisted backstories, you won't be disappointed.