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A Pale Horse
Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery, No 10

by Charles Todd


      Normally I'm not much for period mysteries, but I make a very big exception for Charles Todd's Inspector Rutledge series. This is an extraordinary character, and the books are always incredibly well-written and brilliantly complex.

I have yet to figure one out completely, and that intrigues me. I love it when I am waiting for the solution to be revealed.

A Pale Horse refers to the white horses of England. These incredible carvings, etched literally into the hills, are huge (the one in Uffington which is the one referenced in this novel is 365 feet long), and date back to the Bronze Age. The images were carved into the hillside, and then their lines filled in with chalk. Having been fortunate enough to have actually seen some of these, I can vouch for their mysterious quality and beauty.

In this story, Rutledge has been sent to Uffington to find out about a man named Patridge who has disappeared. The War Office wants to know where he is, and they've asked Scotland Yard to send a man to inquire.

It is clear to Rutledge and his boss that there's something they're not being told, but they have no idea what it is.

When he arrives in the area, Rutledge finds that Patridge lived in a group of cottages just beneath the white horse hill. These cottages all seem to house people with secrets. The only one without a secret is an iron smith named Slater, who has taken refuge here because his huge size and slow mind have made him a target of ridicule in the village.

A second case comes up in Yorkshire, and once again the War Office asks Scotland Yard to send Rutledge to check it out. This time it's a body that's been found wearing a cloak and a gas mask in the ruins of an abbey. No one knows the man, and the local Inspector is determined to pin the murder on a local school teacher - entirely for personal reasons.

So Ian Rutledge finds himself driving all over the countryside, trying to identify a body, locate a man who clearly doesn't want to be found, and clear the name of a teacher who is being persecuted unfairly.

Worst of all, and in the midst of everything else, Rutledge has personal issues that arise. Not that he doesn't always have personal issues. The man suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after having served in France during World War I. His survivor's guilt is extreme, and in his head is the voice of a man he had to execute in the field for refusing to obey orders.

Hamish, the voice in his mind, is not much help with his cases, and his nightmares about the gassing of men in the trenches and the horrors of having lost virtually all the men he commanded preys on him constantly.

But it does not hinder his ability to find motives nor to unwind the complex knots of opportunity and means.

A Pale Horse is once again a great mystery novel. The language always sounds in perfect tone with the period and, as someone living in the era of DNA and great strides in forensic evidence, I find it fascinating to see how murders were solved in the days before these advances.

Reviews of other titles in this series

A Test of Wills, 1   [reviews]
A False Mirror, No 7   [review]
A Long Shadow, 8   [review]
A Pale Horse, 10   [review]
A Matter of Justice, 11  [review 1] [review 2]
The Confession, 14   [review 1] [review 2]
The Black Ascot, 21 [review]

The Book

William Morrow / HarperCollins
December 26, 2007
0061233560 / 006167270X
Historical Mystery /British Police Procedural
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The Reviewer

Sarah Bewley
Reviewed 2008
© 2008