I'm so pleased to have this guest post from Charles Todd, author of two mystery series set in and after World War I in England - the Inspector Ian Rutledge series - the newest of which, The Confession, is just out in bookstores as well as the Bess Crawford series. It seems especially timely to post it tonight, having just finished watching the first episode of season 2 of Downton Abbey, with WWI very fresh in my mind. Here, the mother-daughter writing team of Charles Todd reflect on another fictionalization of that war: War Horse and why this time period is so rich for storytelling.
If you’ve seen the previews of War Horse, the movie, or been fortunate enough to see the splendid stage version in New York or London, or read the book from which both were taken, you have glimpsed the world that Bess Crawford and Ian Rutledge knew intimately. A Pale Horse, one of the Rutledge series, touched briefly on the plight of horses during the war, but we’ve never really gone into the issue of taking horses from English families to pull the caissons and wagons, and to be ridden in cavalry charges, and be gassed with the soldiers at the Front. For one thing, it was covered so well in the book by Michael Morpurgo that we felt it would be redundant to tell the story again. And for another, we were focused on people, on Rutledge—a survivor of four years in the trenches, scarred by what he had to do and had to witness, trying to resume a career interrupted by the fighting even as he struggles with his memories—and Bess, who tends the wounded men brought to aid stations and hospitals and sometimes convoying them to England for further care, is never far from death either in France or in London. It’s an interesting period in history, and there are so many stories yet to be told about it. It has been a fascinating time in which to set murder mysteries, exciting and remarkable in its own way. The courage Bess shows dealing with horribly wounded men carries over into finding a murderer. She doesn’t look for cases to solve—they come to her as she goes about her duties. And Rutledge, at Scotland Yard, must face his own demons while bringing all his intuition and skill to bear on bringing in a killer. Compassionate, vulnerable, intelligent and intriguing, he’s been a wonderful character to work with. If you haven’t come across him before, you’re sure to enjoy his latest—The Confession—and if you’re already a fan, you’ll find this Rutledge one of the best yet. Hardcover or e-book, Rutledge fills the page with suspense.
I think what we’ve learned writing these two series is that “our war”, 1914-1918, isn’t all that much different from what soldiers are facing today. Yes, the enemy is wears a different uniform and the weapons of war have made enormous progress from the rifles and the canvas covered planes of WWI, but the fear and the courage and the grief is unchanged. The wounded are still struggling to recover, those in combat too long are still experiencing PTSD, and those waiting at home are still waiting for dreadful news. People still suffer. And yet as a time to set murder mysteries, it has all the drama and excitement and color one could wish as an author—or as a reader.
Read an excerpt from the latest Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery, The Confession. I have a copy of The Confession as well as the pictorial tie-in book to War Horse, the film, to give away. I'll pick one random commenter from all those received by midnight Wednesday, January 11th to receive both books. And keep an eye out for our upcoming readalong of Charles Todd's Bess Crawford mysteries, that starts with the first book in that series, A Duty to the Dead, this March!