“Racing The Devil” by Charles Todd is a vintage novel. This mother/son team returns to the scenario that made them so well read. They have an action packed plot with characters that are intensely well liked or disliked. As in all their books, many of the characters bear the internal and external scars of the War. World War I becomes a reality with its impact on the English society at large.
The setting places a prominent role in the book because it adds to the powerful plot. “We wanted to write a story around this setting,” the Todds noted. “As we came up with a plot it was like solving a puzzle, putting in what fits and taking out what doesn’t.”
The book begins with a group of English officers promising to return after the war to meet in Paris to race their motorcars to Nice. In 1919 that promise becomes a reality until serious mishaps mar the reunion when two vehicles are nearly run off the road. Nothing comes of it until one year later, when another mishap with a car kills the rector of a village of Burling Gap in the South Downs. After the local constable asks Scotland Yard for assistance, Inspector Ian Rutledge is sent in to investigate. He uncovers a possible connection between the deaths of the rector and those in the race. He has to put the pieces together to find out who was the intended target. Was it mistaken identity, or was the rector the intended victim?
The theme explores why a perfectly normal human being will resort to murder.
“As we wrote this novel, we wondered what has changed them so drastically in their life that they see no other way out but to kill another human being,” the Todds said. “It goes back to one of the seven deadly sins. It was fun to write how the different interactions and relationships of the characters intertwined depending on their life experiences.”
Each character in the book, whether main or a supporting, was extremely well developed and played an intricate role in the plot. The antagonist is very evil as he lurks in the shadows. This faceless killer is willing to strike again as he attacks Rutledge to stop him, and kidnaps a child. Rutledge realizes he will need all his skills to stop the murderer before other lives are sacrificed.
The female characters show the reality of how the Great War affected society. Jen, a teenage girl, had to grow up way too fast after having her brothers killed in the war. She lost her childhood as she helped her mother tend to the land of a retired captain, an aristocratic employer. He broke off his engagement because of war injuries and his former fiancé had no other suitors. Ginger the dog showed how animals can read people and their loyalty is a trait to be admired. A cameo appearance by Melinda Crawford fits perfectly into the plot.
“England lost an entire generation of men who either died or were severely wounded,” the Todds said. “Many women ended up as spinsters for the rest of their lives, while others never remarried. If you look at the registries, there are entire lines of titles that ceased to exist because there was no one to pass it on to.”
When asked the importance of dogs, the authors said that it was a way “for us to speak with a person in England. Since the culture will not allow you just to go up to someone, we were able to do it if they had a dog. We started a conversation by talking to the dog, telling it how cute it was. The next thing you know they are telling you about their great uncle and how they suffered in World War I.”
“Racing The Devil” is a gripping novel that readers will not want to put down. The many twists and turns add to the gripping plot. Readers will see the many sides of Rutledge as he helps solve the mystery. This psychological thriller includes murder, fear and suspicion, all set up by a chance meeting.