A British detective novel that doesn’t measure up

British detective novelA review of Search the Dark (Inspector Ian Rutledge #3), by Charles Todd

@@@ (3 out of 5)

What is it that keeps fans reading book after book in a series of detective novels? I should know as well as anyone, since I keep going back again and again to the work of Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, Henning Mankell, Jacqueline Winspear, James Lee Burke, Cara Black, John Sandford, Tana French, Elizabeth George, Sara Paretsky, and others, embarrassingly too numerous to mention. These writers have few things in common other than ingenious plotting and strong writing. There is one thing, though: their protagonists are unfailingly interesting.

I’d hoped I might think the same about Inspector Ian Rutledge. I’ve now followed Charles Todd‘s accounts of the man through the first three books in the series featuring the intrepid Scotland Yard detective in the years following World War I. Having just struggled through Search the Dark, the third of nineteen books to date, I’ve decided I’ve had enough of Charles Todd. (As you may be aware, the name is actually a pseudonym for the mother-and-son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd.) Inspector Ian Rutledge and his ghostly sidekick, Hamish MacLeod, have tried my patience for the last time.

The central conceit in this series, or at least in the first three novels, is that Inspector Rutledge suffers from what then was called “shell shock.” Wracked with guilt over a murder he was forced to commit in the course of the war, he is literally haunted by the man he killed. This device could work well in one book, or even in two. But it has already become tedious in the third.

If you want to read detective fiction set in England during the 1920s and 30s, I suggest you turn instead to Jacqueline Winspear’s fascinating Maisie Dobbs series. Enough said.

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Mal Warwick