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A LONG SHADOW
by Charles Todd
William Morrow, January 2006
352 pages
$23.95
ISBN: 006078671X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I'm not a big fan of historical mysteries, but I am a huge fan of Charles Todd's novels featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge. This mother and son writing team has won or been nominated for just about every prize given for good reason, and I'm very happy to report that their newest effort, A LONG SHADOW, may well be their best yet.

New Year's Eve 1919 finds Rutledge in London attending a party at the home of a friend. There he meets a beautiful and mysterious woman named Mrs Channing who is skilled in contacting the spirit world. Rutledge leaves the party before her seance begins, and on his way out of the house discovers a shell casing on the outside stairs.

This is no ordinary shell casing, either. It's a .303 casing from a Maxim machine gun, common as dirt on the battlefields of World War I France, but out of place in a quiet residential London street. When Rutledge examines the casing, he discovers that a delicate design of poppies and skulls has been carved into the brass.

Rutledge is instantly on his guard, fearing that the casing has been left as some kind of warning for him, although how anyone could have known he would have been the first to exit the party remains a mystery. As those readers who have followed the series know, Rutledge faces a constant struggle to bury the secrets of his wartime past in order to maintain a sense of normalcy, but his past haunts him constantly in the person of Hamish, the ghost of a young soldier. As he finds more and more shell casings, and the casings give way to possible attempts on his life, Rutledge fears for his sanity.

He's soon called to the tiny, isolated village of Duddlington to investigate the bow and arrow shooting of a constable in a deserted wood. As he begins his interviews, he becomes convinced that this case is tied to that of a young woman who went missing several years before. He must face down the hostile villagers and earn their trust before he can get to the bottom of the attack, and he must do it under the eyes of his own stalker who might choose to kill him at any moment.

A LONG SHADOW has it all. There's the isolated English village, rife with secrets; the wood haunted by Saxon ghosts; the brilliant and tormented hero and, to top it off, the mysterious and beautiful woman who comes to his aid and seems to be able to see into the depths of his soul.

Todd's language is evocative of the era without seeming dated, and the psychological insights offered here into the terrible costs of war are sensitive but never preachy. The characterizations of even the most minor players are complex and memorable. Few writers are able to capture the sensibility of a place as well as Todd, and here Firth Wood takes on an atmospheric foreboding that keeps this mystery riveting all the way through. Though the astute reader will see it coming, the climax is a jaw-dropping triumph of terror.

A LONG SHADOW is a truly stunning book, one sure to become a classic of the genre. Buy it immediately, but be warned: The bone-chilling wind that blows across the Duddlington fields is so fierce that you may find yourself inching your thermostat higher.

Reviewed by Carroll Johnson, January 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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