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A Fearsome Doubt: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery    by Charles Todd order for
Fearsome Doubt
by Charles Todd
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

A Fearsome Doubt continues the chronicles of troubled post World War I British police inspector Ian Rutledge. In five previous Rutledge books, the Todd mother/son writing team have created one of mystery fiction's most unusual and engrossing characters. After serving in the war, Rutledge has returned to his police job as a shell-shocked veteran haunted by guilt after having to execute a soldier who refused a military order.

This soldier Hamish is a continuous ghostly presence in Rutledge's mind and in the back seat of his car. In one especially telling scene, Rutledge panics when he is forced to carry several passengers in his car - he fears that Hamish will move up to sit next to him on the front seat. Although this ongoing interchange may make the books sound difficult to read, Hamish is a Highlander and so his Scottish accent makes his voice distinct from Rutledge's in their dialogues.

The books are each set one month apart. A Fearsome Doubt takes place in November 1919, just a year after the Armistice when grim war memories still weigh on everyone's mind. Rutledge has gradually learned to cope with Hamish's mocking tone in his head. He is often able to benefit from Hamish's insights and to use him as a sounding board for his ideas, almost as his Dr. Watson. It is as if Hamish puts Rutledge in touch with his subconcious or inner psyche, and this makes him a better policeman.

However, Rutledge is still a deeply troubled man from guilt at his actions in the war. Things get worse when Nell Shaw, the widow of a man Rutledge helped convict for the murders of several elderly ladies before the war, brings him evidence that may prove her husband was innocent. This exacerbates the fearsome doubts that Rutlege has about himself. Not only did he execute a good man (Hamish) who only refused an order to lead his men to almost certain death, but now he finds that he may have sent an innocent man to the gallows.

But Rutledge must look beyond this past case, since he is also drawn into a present day series of murders in rural Kent. Several war veterans, all of whom lost a leg in the war, have been murdered from drinking wine mixed with an overdose of laudanum. Rutledge's antagonistic supervisor Chief Inspector Bowles, always eager to get rid of his too capable subordinate, sends Rutledge to Kent.

Rutledge is familiar with the lovely Kent countryside, from many happy childhood excursions there with his friend Richard Mayhew. Though Mayhew was killed in the war, Rutledge is still good friends with his widow Elizabeth. As Rutledge investigates the veterans' murders he meets a well-drawn cast of characters including Melinda Crawford, a long-time family connection and sharp-eyed old lady who has done much in her life and misses nothing.

In some of the early Todd books it has been a bit difficult to keep all the characters and sub-plots present, but this is not the case here. While this mystery is as complex as past ones, the plotting is executed flawlessly both for the past and present murders, and readers should be quite surprised at the denouement. One of the many good features of this series is the setting, both time and place. In the immediate years following the war, Britain was still reeling from its traumatic events and massive casualties - not only deaths but injuries, including soldiers who were gassed and never recovered.

At the time of this story, the trauma of the war still hangs over the countryside and certainly over Rutledge who calls the Battle of the Somme in 1916 when he had to execute Hamish as the 'watershed of his madness'. Since the Todds have traveled extensively in England, the settings of the books are also vividly depicted. One really gets the feel of walking down dark country lanes or strolling along shabby village streets.

Several of the previous Todd books have been nominated for major awards and also listed as New York Times Notable Books of the Year. A Fearsome Doubt is sure to receive as much acclaim or more.

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