Charles Todd is the bestselling author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mystery series. In this series, Rutledge investigates crimes as part of Scotland Yard in post-WWI England, who is haunted by his years spent on the battlefield. In Cold Comfort, a new ebook original novella, Todd takes his readers back to when Inspector Rutledge was a lieutenant in World War I. Cold Comfort is on sale today for $1.99 as an ebook only, and includes an exclusive excerpt from the new book in the Rutledge series, Hunting Shadows (on sale January 28th). Here, Todd tells us about the genesis of Cold Comfort.
Where did the idea for this story come from? That’s a tangled tale—ideas never pop up fully packed and ready to travel. They start with a germ that sprouts and grows. In the case of Cold Comfort, we were in North Wales, traveling in the Mt. Snowdon area. We went to the top on the lovely little train that winds its way up with spectacular views on every side. As we were standing there on the observation deck, the friends asked if we’d ever visited a slate mine, for this was slate country. The answer: No. So the next morning we went down into not one but two slate mines, in each case taking an open car “train” below ground to a working face. Mind you, it was rainy and damp, and the slickers and helmets provided for us were very comfortable. I could feel large drops hitting mine as we sped from daylight to noisy darkness. We reached our first stop and got out—and it was pitch black, you couldn’t see where to put your feet. As the guide began to speak, each area he was talking about lit up so that we could see what he was telling us about. One of the stories was about a “rock man,” the person who puts the black powder into carefully drilled holes and lights the charge that will bring down a whole wall of slate, so that it can be broken up to working size (still quite large) and carried out. It’s a responsible position—a mistake can bring down the “room” where the miners work, killing and maiming. Later we went to see how the slate was “cut” to size, and that was remarkable. It’s still used for roofs, lasting longer than thatch or shakes.
Here was our germ. Who were these slate workers? And that led us to another interesting tidbit. Some of them worked in France, tunneling far below German lines. Once a stalemate had been reached in the war, the Front moving a matter of feet and yards from month to month, new methods of dislodging the enemy had to be tried. The Germans got there first, but the British weren’t far behind. And who do you call when you want to tunnel deep into the ground? The men who do it professionally: miners. And that was when the rest of the story fell into place.
This is one of the fun things about writing, storing away something you’ve seen or done, waiting for the next stage where it begins to grow into more than just an idea, and then bringing in your characters in to people the time and the place. And so Rutledge, borrowed from the line, finds himself doing very confining work deep underground. This is 1915, well before he was blown up on the Somme, well before a German shell buried him beneath tons of earth, and left him with severe claustrophobia. Hamish—Corporal MacLeod—is still alive here and doing his part. That’s something we enjoy doing in short stories. It’s a way to watch the two men together, to see them as friends despite the differences in background or rank, to understand why they valued each other’s sense of responsibility and duty. Their abiding concern for their men. If you haven’t met Hamish MacLeod at the Front, or seen the man Rutledge was before he was shell shocked, this is your chance.