A False Mirror
by Charles Todd
Review by Steve Sawicki
Harper Mass Market ISBN/ITEM#: 9780060786748
Date: 01 January 2008 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Inspector Ian Rutledge can't just leave well enough alone. When he's given orders to leave off he pokes around instead. When he's told to stay here he goes there. All of this works against him so when an old war acquaintance holds himself up in a house with two women and a gun and insists that only Rutledge can resolve things, he finds himself shuttled off to the countryside. Arriving at Hampton Regis, Rutledge immediately realizes that he's involved in things much more complicated than presented. Hampton Regis is a small, quiet town where things just don't happen and Rutledge soon finds himself at the center of a controversy trying to prove the innocence of a man he does not like and does not trust. As time passes Rutledge is put under pressure from Scotland Yard to resolve the case. He's also put under pressure from the local Constables who want him gone now, if not yesterday. And he's put under pressure by the man in the house with the gun and the women whom he knows is innocent.
Charles Todd has created an interesting tableau by setting his work just after the First World War. His characters are, nearly all: world weary, beaten down, depressed, and lacking any sense of optimism. If there is emotion present it is anger, or despair. Within this environment moves Inspector Ian Rutledge, himself damaged during the Great War and barely able, at times, to keep himself going. And if the characters are drab and dreary so are the settings. Hamton Regis is a town that has been forgotten. The buildings are old and drab, the sea constantly beats against the shore and the occasional land slide seems to indicate who the ultimate winner is going to be. The setting is dark, damp, dismal and disturbing. And yet one believes, right from the beginning that Rutledge will succeed, somehow, someway.
I was surprised at how moody this book was. A number of times I found myself needing to shake off the overall miasma of turgidity that seemed to reek from the pages. Todd does an excellent job of creating this mood and not letting it sink the whole book in the process. It is a mood that is fitting to the period within which he has set his characters. Rutledge, as the damaged protagonist, moves forward as if compelled by the thought that if he does not keep moving he'll simply slump to the ground dead. A fascinating series that captures the mood of the time and yet still manages to entertain. Well done.