Charles Todd’s Latest Mystery Novel ‘A Game of Fear’ Will Satisfy Fans
Beginning in 1996, the mother-son writing team of Carolyn and David Watgen – posing as Caroline and Charles Todd – produced nearly 40 critically acclaimed historical mysteries.
Some two dozen featured Inspector Ian Rutledge, a battle-scarred Scotland Yard detective active in the early 1920s, while another dozen followed Bess Crawford, a British Army nurse during World War I. who solved crimes in parallel. There were also two stand-alone novels.
“A Game of Fear”, which has just been released, is the duo’s latest novel, and unfortunately, the last. Carolyn Watgen died last August at the age of 86.
It’s a nice highlight. Charles Todd’s novels have been New York Times bestsellers and have won Agatha, Barry, and other mystery awards. Yet “A Game of Fear” is one of the most satisfying in the series.
Rutledge, still on the wrong side of his superiors in London, is once again sent on a case far into the English countryside – in this case, to Benton Abbey, a stately home on the Essex coast.
Lady Felicity Benton claims to have witnessed a murder from her bedroom window in the middle of the night. However, no corpse could be found the following day.
Worse still, Lady Benton insists the killer was Captain Roger Nelson, a British air ace stationed at a nearby air base during the war. But everyone knows Captain Nelson has been dead for years – killed in a car accident while off duty.
Local police and even her personal doctor think Lady Benton might be soft on the brain – after all, she’s a widow whose only son was killed in action. Still, the family has attraction, and Rutledge has been sent to check things out.
His superiors don’t know it (although readers do), but Ian Rutledge is something of an expert on ghosts. He is haunted by the voice of Hamish, a young Scottish corporal who died under his command during the Great War. Rutledge blames himself for his unjust death (he had to command the firing squad that killed the boy), and the voice keeps coming back to him.
In terms of detection, however, that’s not entirely a bad thing. Hamish serves as the voice of Rutledge’s subconscious, and he notices details that sometimes escape Rutledge at first. Imagine an invisible Dr. Watson with a thick Scottish accent.
Rutledge finds Lady Benton to be a sensible, well-grounded woman who is not bigoted. What she’s saying seems impossible, but she’s a credible witness.
Is Captain Nelson really alive? Did someone arrange the fake murder, perhaps to scare Lady Benton into town so the house could be ransacked? (Benton Abbey is full of 17th century paintings and antique silverware.) Or is there another explanation?
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It takes 300 pages, at a pace some readers might find chilling, but Rutledge and Hamish crack the case.
The Todds have always insisted that it was a 50-50 collaboration, conducted remotely. (David Watgen/Charles Todd is a longtime resident of North Carolina, while his mother lived in Delaware.) The duo made frequent trips along the back roads of England, which explains the descriptions vivid images of the British countryside and the intricate details of Benton’s architecture. Abbey and other monuments.
Fans of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers – and Anglophiles in general – will find “A Game of Fear” and Todd’s other books a delight. The characters are satisfyingly complex and the puzzles are suitably obscure, with twists, turns, and a whole school of red herrings on the way to the actual solution.
For my part, I hope that Charles Todd, the son, will continue the series in solo. These books are too fun to finish.
“A FEAR GAME”
By Charles Todd
William Morrow, $28.99