The mother and son writing team, Charles and Caroline Todd, aka Charles Todd, have authored two series of books: the Bess Crawford and the Ian Rutledge mysteries. What can only be classified as historical mysteries, these books brilliantly mix a little WWI history, a suspenseful crime plot, and very engaging characters. Their most recent novel, A Question of Honor, takes Bess back and forth between her days in India in 1908 to her time in England and France in 1918. The next Ian Rutledge book, Hunting Shadows will be released early next year.
Caroline and Charles Todd decided to collaborate because they had a common interest: English movies, literature, and the First World War era. The Crawford series takes place during WWI while the Rutledge series starts in 1919, at the immediate aftermath. Although their novels fascinatingly explore the cat and mouse chase between detective and criminal, each series has a different perspective. The authors commented to blackfive.net, “Bess is more like an unwilling accomplice. She finds herself involved in something she must deal with since she never goes hunting for a case to solve. They are always thrust upon her. We would describe her as an amateur sleuth who gets involved because of her clear sense of moral responsibility. On the other hand the Ian Rutledge series are more police procedurals. Being a Scotland Yard detective he probes, corners, and questions suspects and has the badge behind him.”
Both characters are very compelling and intriguing. Since Bess is a British nurse during WWI readers are presented with a gripping storyline. Her experiences and perspective of being a battlefield nurse, including the conditions of hospitals in France and England, are also explored. The other series character, Ian, is a former military officer who now works for Scotland Yard and must hide his battle with shell shock, or PTSD as it is known today. The authors are able to show this through the character Hamish, who is described by them as “the epitome of those who died under Rutledge’s leadership, his coping mechanism for survival guilt. Hamish is his alter ego.”
What makes these books very interesting is the reminder of how detective work used to be done and solved without the use of technology: no DNA samples, no fingerprint computer comparisons, and no bullet examinations under a microscope. The main characters, Bess and Ian, are considered students of human character and behavior, using “body language,” to help solve the crime along with their wit and instincts. The story always involves a number of suspects where the characters try to find the culprit who attempts to foil their every move.
The most recent Bess Crawford novel, A Question of Honor, delves into a number of issues. Besides the setting of war, there is the discussion of a regiment’s reputation when an officer is accused of killing five people, and the lives of British military children boarded by strangers in England while their parents were in India. They emphasized the latter by using the real life experiences of the writer Rudyard Kipling and noted in the book, “The most shocking experience a child can suffer…helpless, afraid, abused, and no escape.”
The authors also gave a heads up about their next book, Hunting Shadows. It has Ian Rutledge battling PTSD and an almost paralyzing claustrophobia as he searches for a possible serial killer. This case will lead Rutledge figuratively and literally back to the WWI battlefields as he matches wits with the different suspects. The authors promise to give the readers many twists and turns, noting that things are not as they appear to be.
As always, the writing of the mother and son Todd team is superb. In their series they allow the reader to go back to a different era and view of the world. With the backdrop of WWI, the mysteries are complex, suspenseful, and insightful.