on 4 March 2010
After having read many other books written by the "Charles Todd" team of writers it might be possible for me to become tired of the characters portrayed. Luckily, that has not happened. This particular book in the series does have some small problems, but for the most part I am so interested in the life of the main character, Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, that I find I am willing to overlook those problems in favor of the enjoyment I receive from the story as a whole. The novel takes place in 1920, only several years after the fighting stopped in World War I. Rutledge has, as his constant reminder of that war, the voice in his mind of a soldier whom he ordered to be executed for refusing to obey a direct order under combat conditions. It remains a balancing act for Rutledge to function without allowing anyone to realize how much influence the voice of Hamish has over him.
Rutledge is sent on a watching brief for the Army because someone they are keeping an eye on has disappeared. Rutledge has nothing to go on because the Army isn't talking and Chief Superintendent Bowles doesn't want any feathers ruffled. Rutledge drives to the tiny village in Berkshire which sits practically beneath the chalk horse carved into the hillside, not far from Uffington. It is clearly impossible for him to remain unobserved by the other eight residents of the enclave of cottages. All of these people have chosen to isolate themselves, even from the villagers, because of hidden secrets in their lives. After several days Rutledge returns to London, only to be sent immediately to a village in Yorkshire where an unidentified man has been found, presumably the victim of a murder.
Some of the problems I had with this particular book were because all eight of the tenants of the cottages played such a large part in the mystery. That turned out to be quite a few people to keep track of. And the crime in Yorkshire also had many characters attached to it and they also added to some of the confusion. I have to say that I still don't fully understand why the character living in the cottage beneath the pale horse was committing the crimes there. Evidently I haven't fully grasped the explanation and will need to go back and read that part over again. As for the happenings in the Yorkshire area, I enjoyed that much more. That situation involved other members of the police force acting in self-serving manners and being unwilling to accept the help and advice Rutledge was giving them. These books always surprise me with how often suspects, or even just witnesses to a crime, will simply tell the police they choose not to talk to them and slam the door. Can you really do that?
Once again I enjoyed the atmosphere created for this story. This particular location has probably the most famous of all the chalk horses in England and I liked how it's history was woven into the thinking and actions of the characters. Rutledge and Hamish had a very good "conversation" regarding what had happened in France during the war with Rutledge asking Hamish exactly the same question I have often wanted answered. Always realizing, of course, that Hamish is a ghostly voice in Rutledge's mind, but in these stories he does become a bona fide character. I still have several of the stories to read and this 10th novel in the series is written in such a was as to be a completely stand alone novel. I am mightily enamored of the writing style and characters of these novels. I sincerely hope you will come away feeling the same.
This slow-paced mystery is set in early twentieth century England. The protagonist is Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard, a man haunted by the ghost of a soldier named Hamish MacLeod, whose voice is his constant companion, conscience and advisor within his head.
The story begins with a group of schoolboys experimenting with alchemy by moonlight in the ruins of an abandoned Abbey. To their horror, they discover that they have apparently raised the devil himself, and swearing each other to secrecy, they run off into the night. The next morning, the body of an unidentified man is discovered in the ruins, dressed in a hooded cloak and gas mask, and next to his foot is a book on alchemy, property of the schoolmaster Albert Crowell.
Thus begins a long investigation into the identity of the dead man, the interrogation of the schoolmaster as a murder suspect, a couple of false trails, and the uncovering of a big cover-up by the British War Office. Along the way, sub-stories relate the circumstances leading to the death of Hamish and also the love life of the Inspector's sister Frances.
The trail takes Rutledge to a group of tiny houses in Berkshire, his job being to observe a man named Gaylord Partridge. The tourist attraction in the area is a huge figure of a horse, cut into the chalk in prehistoric times, and preserved in perpetuity galloping tirelessly along the hillside. Under the pretext of doing some horsing around on the cliffs, Rutledge learns that Partridge has disappeared, as he has been known to do on occasion, and that the occupants of the cottages all have secrets they'd rather keep hidden.
Amidst conflicts with the War Office, his own office politics and local law enforcement, Rutledge painstakingly pecks away at the armor of the residents of the Tomlin Cottages, and things start heating up both literally and figuratively when arson and murder go hand in hand.
A solid read, except for a few questionable plot contrivances, and packed with local color, this story starts off on a high note, and hastens to increase the pace as it wraps up at the end, but dallies too long in the middle for short attention spans.
on 29 June 2013
This is the second book I have read by Charles Dance and what a wonderful combination they are of intriguing plots, historical background and journey's into the British countryside. By contrast we are ever reminded of horror and memories of WW1 which feature so heart breakingly in all these books.
None more so than in this story with its background of gas attacts used as a deadly weapon in this terrible war.
This mother and son, that is Charles Todd, make a remarkable and very talented duo. The descriiptions of the English coutrysides where familiar landmarks of Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire and the White Horse of the title come alive in your mind. Their connection in the story constantly taking Inspector Rutledge back and forth in his analysis of the case how it all fits together.
One tiny flaw in the plot is when it is finally establised who is responsible for certain killings and the motive behind it, it begs the question how did he go undetected by the army when their spys were on his doorstep, albeit watching someone else.
Still you will have read to the end to see what you think.