Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd, the mother-son writing team, once again has Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge attempting to solve a murder case.
Their books are part historical novels and part gripping thrillers that are always character based. Readers who live in the technology age should find it fascinating how the protagonists must solve the crimes by studying human character and behavior and not with DNA or forensic evidence.
The plot begins when a sniper shoots a former British captain during a wedding at Ely Cathedral. As the investigation widens a political candidate is also gunned down by the sniper, with a witness claiming the shooter a monster. Because of the double murder, Scotland Yard becomes involved and sends Ian Rutledge to investigate. This tale becomes very complicated and complex as there are a number of twists regarding the suspects.
As in all Todd novels they explore different issues of the WWI era. Through the voice of a dead comrade, Corporal Hamish, shell shock, known today as PTSD, is examined along with the attitude towards snipers. Besides the subject of soldiers scarred by war readers are able to learn how young single women were doomed to spinsterhood due to the large number of men lost in the war.
The setting takes on an importance as it becomes vital to the plot. Through the vast descriptions, the reader feels as if they were in Rutledge’s motorcar. The creaking windmill in the low-lying Fens along with the fog and heavy rain makes the mystery eerier.
Hunting Shadows is cleverly written. The reader is led down one path only to find through the many twists that there are other possibilities. The story is very riveting and informative that will keep people’s attention throughout.
Elise Cooper: We at Crimespree Magazine want to offer our condolences for the loss of your husband and father. Can you tell us a little about John?
Caroline and Charles Todd: He was a quiet and unassuming person. He worked with us behind the scenes. He died surrounded by family and friends. John was a PhD Chemical Engineer and that made him a perfect proofreader and our defacto editor. Since he was logical and scientific he made sure we were on the right track for believability and were consistent with the character traits. When we traveled to England he was our long-shot photographer and the most amazing driver. He had a love for history, people, and animals. So anyone who wishes to make a donation in his name can contribute to their local animal shelter or needy family foundation.
EC: In your first book Hamish was more of a tormentor, but now he appears to be more of a sidekick. Do you think the role of Hamish has evolved from A Test of Wills to Hunting Shadows?
The Todds: Hamish plays different roles depending on what is going on in a particular book. He is a reflection of the guilt in Rutledge’s mind. The more he is under stress and the more we discuss the actual war, the more Hamish comes to the forefront. In the recent books he is Rutledge’s coping mechanism. In our first book, A Test of Wills the last line is very telling, ‘Whatever else I’ve lost, this one triumph is mine.’ In other words Rutledge fought and won back his own sanity. Hamish is very complex to Rutledge’s emotional state. Rutledge has shell shock, PTSD, and he had to hide it because it was then seen as a stigma, not an honorable wound.
EC: Can you explain the quote from Hunting Shadows, “I wasn’t ashamed of what I did. It saved lives, my skill?”
The Todds: Pre Viet Nam wars snipers were not looked upon favorably. Many of the British, during WWI, despised snipers, including their own. It wasn’t sporting to kill by sniping. It was not considered gentlemanly, shooting a man from ambush. The attitude was not like it is today where the sniper skill is recognized as doing a service for their fellow teammates. In fact, in 1920 snipers lied to people on what they did because of the shame.
EC: So the British did not look upon snipers as heroes as we do today?
The Todds: At the end of WWI the British disbanded the sniper program, but the Germans kept it and even had a training school. Snipers were very rarely taken prisoner because they were seen as pariahs. We as Americans find them as heroes but the British have distaste for them going back to the Revolutionary War. They looked on our Kentucky Long Rifle shooters, up in the trees, as cowards.
EC: Does the setting in this book take on an importance of its own?
The Todds: We do extensive research including traveling to England at least once a year. For this book we went to the Cathedral to scope out where the sniper could hide as he killed. We wanted to find villages that were isolated which would fit into the storyline as well as finding certain characteristics about the villagers. Back then people did not travel a lot and it was always the inner circle versus the outsider. It’s the fear of the unfamiliar. We wanted to convey the feelings of lost innocence. The landscape was very important to the plot.
EC: In A Test of Wills you have some very powerful love quotes, “I’ve never known such happiness-I want it to go on forever- I want to feel it in old age,” and “Love teaches you humility-patience-understanding. And acceptance.” Yet, now the sixteenth novel and Rutledge does not have a love interest, why?
The Todds: The best way to explain it is that you bring a nice girl home that you hope your son will like, and he shows no interest. It’s that way with Rutledge. We have dangled some promising candidates but he shows no interest. Remember it’s been only two years since he was jolted. We don’t think he is quite ready for a romantic interest. There have been women who touched his life in the different books, but with Hamish still a powerful force it does not seem plausible for Rutledge at this time.
EC: How would you describe your mystery writing style?
The Todds: First and foremost we never want the readers attention to be drawn to ourselves: who wrote what. I remember someone once told me Charles must write all the battlefield scenes and I must do the love scenes. I can write as good a battle scene as Charles. I found it amusing that when it came to describing war, women appear to be at a disadvantage. It’s amazing what the two of us can come up with. We try to capture the nuisances and write it down before the magic disappears. Once you start writing you see different aspects. Its like your fingers are doing the thinking and you can feel the excitement. We try to keep Rutledge and Bess vibrant and real. We work as hard on each book as the very first one. We never want our readers to say we cheated them. We let our characters tell us where to go.
EC: Whom do you like to read?
The Todds: Debra Crombie. You remember her characters long after you finish the book. She keeps her readers hooked until the last page. We know we will get a good read and can understand how she sets up whom the killer is. What she does with the London police characters is amazing.
EC: Can you tell us about your next books?
The Todds: Due out in the summer will be a Bess Crawford novel, An Unwilling Accomplice. Bess is on leave from her duties in France and is asked to take a wounded soldier to the palace for a medal awards ceremony. After the ceremony her charge disappears and she is blamed. This leads to her having to prove that she is not in any way involved in the conspiracy of his disappearance.
Since this will be the 100th anniversary of WWI we are also thinking of possibly incorporating that into the next Rutledge book. It will be a prequel to A Test of Wills, showing Rutledge’s life a few months before he entered the war. The murder mystery will take place in 1914 instead of 1920 where readers will see him as a very different man compared to what he is now. After he finishes the case he will be thrown into the war. Also, instead of a voice, Hamish will be a live character. Right now the working title is A Fine Summers Day.