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The Black Ascot
Ian Rutledge #21
BY Charles Todd

William Morrow
Feb 5, 2019/ ISBN 9780062678744
Mystery / Historical

Reviewed by  Elise Cooper

The Black Ascot by Charles Todd ratchets up the mystery. Readers are able to get a deeper understanding of Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge while getting a glimpse of the social and political trends of the 1920s.

Unlike many of the past plot-lines, this one focuses on a Cold Case. Ten years ago, a woman was murdered after attending the Black Ascot race, the famous 1910 royal horserace honoring the late King Edward VII. The suspect, Alan Barrington, has eluded capture and the aggressive manhunt. Now it appears that Barrington has returned to England, and Rutledge is chosen to conduct a quiet search under the cover of a routine review of a cold case.

"We wanted to write as a starting off point, how a killing surrounded this event, called the killer, the Black Ascot Murderer. A woman was killed coming out of the races. After Edward VII died in 1910, there was a period of royal mourning. People thought the Ascot races should be canceled. Since the races were an integral part of society, it was decided to go through with it. Instead of wearing the glorious hats and gowns as in "My Fair Lady," they decided everyone should wear black; thus, the Black Ascot."

Determined to get into the mind of Barrington, Rutledge delves into all of his relationships and secrets, enlisting the help and advice of his alter-ego, Hamish. But everything seems to be put on hold after the inspector is shot. Along with his supervisors and family, he questions whether it was attempted suicide, or was someone out to kill him. The only way to save his career, and his sanity, is to find Alan Barrington and bring him to justice.

The Todds noted, "There were two societal stigmas in the story. Shell-shock was considered a moral failure that reflected on the individual and their family. It was not only a shame on the veteran but a shame on the family for producing a coward. Families would disown sons who had lost their nerve. We talked with readers who came up to us and said thank you for allowing me to understand my grandfather or father now. Veterans also say thank you, which means so much to us. With suicide, at the time, people considered it a crime and would put a person in jail. If someone committed suicide, they would not be allowed to be buried in consecrated Church grounds because it is considered a moral sin. Many times, the family doctor would say the man who died was due to a gun going off while cleaning and declared it an accidental death. This makes no sense since a man could take his gun apart in the dark during the war. Those who did it had the feeling, ‘I have taken as much as I can take, and do not know what else to do.' They could not talk about it and did not know where to go to for help. They just could not cope."

Many twists and turns keep readers on their toes. Each character has strengths and flaws that have people questioning if they are good or bad, likable, or not.

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]

Reviewed 2019