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A Test of Wills by Charles Todd
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A Test of Wills (1996)

by Charles Todd

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries (1)

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1,213559,506 (3.82)187
  1. 00
    Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (majkia)
    majkia: similar focus on shellshock.
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A Test of Wills
4 Stars

In the aftermath of WWI, Inspector Ian Rutledge is sent by Scotland Yard to investigate the murder of a decorated veteran, Colonel Charles Harris. Everyone in the area is surprised at the senseless crime, but as the secrets of the tiny Warwickshire village emerge, Rutledge comes to realize that still waters run deep and something dark and sinister is at work.

Reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries, the seemingly peaceful village atmosphere, the intriguing investigation and the compelling protagonist all make for an entertaining read.

Rutledge is a fascinating character. Suffering from shell-shock (PTSD in today’s terminology) as a result of his experiences in the trenches, he struggles to cope with his own demons as he exposes the secrets of the various villagers along with their motives for murder.

Each of the suspects is fleshed out well whether it be the Colonel’s enticing young ward with her bewitching eyes and lying tongue, or the famous flying ace who quarreled with the victim before his death, or the town troublemaker who bears a nasty grudge and is not adverse to spreading half truths. Not to mention the obsequious priest, or the talented young artist with a disturbing past, or the painfully shy girl whose afraid of her own shadow. All of them contribute to the dark and insidious vibe within the misleadingly quaint and peaceful village.

Although the story takes a while to get going as Rutledge interviews each of the suspects and works to gather evidence from the most unlikely of sources, the last few chapters are gripping and the finale is intense and exciting with an interesting twist or two.

In sum, a promising beginning to the series and I look forward to following Inspector Rutledge’s future investigations and learning more about his past. ( )
  Lauren2013 | May 24, 2018 |
What today is termed post-traumatic stress disorder was called battle fatigue in World War II and shell shock during and after World War I. Whatever the term, the condition affects those, not necessarily soldiers, who have witnessed more stress or horror than they can cope with emotionally.

Since 1996, Charles Todd (actually the mother and son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd) has been producing a successful series of British mysteries featuring Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard inspector with a serious, if well-hidden, disorder. When he is tired or under stress, he hears the voice of Hamish, a soldier whom Rutledge shot during the war for his failure to obey a direct, if suicidal, order.

In “A Test of Wills,” the very first book in this series, Rutledge returns to his job at Scotland Yard at the close of the war, but neither he nor his superiors knows if he is up to it. His first case involves two other veterans of that war, a colonel blown off his horse by someone with a shotgun and a captain seen as the most likely suspect. Because Captain Wilton is a national war hero, the Yard very much wants somebody else, anybody else, to be guilty of the crime.

Wilton had been planning to marry Lettice Wood, the ward of Colonel Harris, but on the night before the murder the two men had been heard quarreling. A witness says the argument had resumed the next morning. Other evidence also points to the captain, while there seems to be nobody else with both motive and opportunity.

The novel's title gains multiple meanings as the story unfolds, but firstly the case represents a test of Rutledge's will. Can he discover the truth when those at the center of the case seem determined to hide it from him? Can he build a case that will hold up in court, let alone stand up to the pressure from Scotland Yard? Most of all, can he silence the voice of Hamish long enough to focus his mind on the murder?

Rutledge, as it turns out, is not alone in suffering from shell shock. or its equivalent. A witness, once a prominent citizen and skilled worker, has become an alcoholic since the war. And a little girl who saw the decapitated body of the colonel remains in a state of shock. Rutledge's own experience makes him more willing and able to get more out of these witnesses than other detectives might have been able to do.

I found the novel's ending weak, given my preference for detectives who actually detect the killer rather than just get lucky at the end, but otherwise “A Test of Wills” is a good start to a good series of mysteries. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Apr 30, 2018 |
I have read 2 previous Charles Todd books - the first 2 in the Bess Crawford series featuring Bess Crawford as a WWl nurse who goes back and forth between the front in France and England (on leave) While in England she solves complicated murder mysteries. A Test of Wills is my first of their earlier, longer series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge. This series is set immediately after WWl. I didn't enjoy this one as much as the 2 Bess Crawford books, mainly because the pace was too slow. There was too little action/suspense and too much endless questioning of the same narrow range of witnesses and suspects. This becomes mind-numbing after a while. Good if you like cosy mysteries with a strong character/psychological slant, which I do but preferably balanced against a bit more suspense and action. Actually, the slow pace and endless questioning somewhat dulled my enjoyment of the Beth Crawford series as well. But I enjoyed the writing otherwise and will try a few more in both series. Another negative point about A Test of Wills is that it seems to take forever to find out who did it and then, all of a sudden, it is wrapped up with dizzying speed with virtually no discussion of motive other than simply stating it. Not the most satisfying ending. ( )
  MitchMcCrimmon | Apr 27, 2018 |
I have read a couple of Charles Todd's Bess Crawford books and I thought it was time to check out the mother and son duos other historical series; the Ian Rutledge series. The Bess Crawford books take place during WW1, but the Ian Rutledge series takes place just after the end of WW1. And, while Bess Crawford is a nurse at the front is Ian Rutledge a policeman at the Scotland Yard.

Ian Rutledge is back at work after five years at the front. But what not many know is that he is suffering from shell shock and he hears voices. Or rather he hears voices of one particular man that he knew from the war. A man that never got home alive and he feels guilty about it. But he still tries to do a good job, despite the fact that he suffering from shell shock.

In this, the first book is he sent to deal with the murder of well-liked Colonel Charles Harris who was shot while he was out riding in the morning. He was seen by the house staff arguing with Mark Wilton, the main suspect on the day before. Mark Wilton is also the Colonels wards fiance and Charles and Mark are good friends. There is no evidence that Mark is the killer and the only man that says that he saw the two men together arguing on the day the Colonel died is a man suffering from shell shock. That disturbs Ian Rutledge who starts to suspect that someone at Scotland Yard knows about is affliction and that he was given this case so that he would fail.

This is the kind of book that takes awhile to get into. You don't know that much about Ian Rutledge, but clues about him, about his time in the war and what happen to him, is revealed throughout the book. In the end, I came to like him very much, he is a man that been through hell, that is trying to get back to the life he had before the war, but it's hard. Jean, the woman he loves, broke up with him after he got home. He was not the man she had known before the war and neither was she the girl he knew before the war. And, it doesn't make it better that he is hearing the voice of Hamish in his head.

The case was interesting, albeit the start of the book was a bit slow as much of the time, in the beginning, is spent on getting to know all the involved characters, their relationship with the murdered man. It was in no way boring, but it felt like it took some time to get somewhere with the case. But it's well worth it since it made you really get to know the characters, they feel well developed. Rutledge had to during the days he was on the case painstakingly try to find out the answers from people that not always was that forthcoming with the truth. And, I really liked the last part of the book when it all started to make sense and the truth about the murder was revealed. I was surprised about how it all turned out and never suspected that kind of ending.

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the books in the series. I like Rutledge, and I hope he will get better and that he someday will find peace. Also, I really hope that he will meet Bess Crawford some day. ( )
  MaraBlaise | Dec 14, 2017 |
WWI shellshocked inspector goes back to work — talks @ suicide
rather than die face life. English countryside — layers of society New World — mountebank — hawker of quack beliefs / flamboyant charlatan

In 1919, Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge remains haunted by World War I, where he was forced to have a soldier executed for refusing to fight. When Rutledge is assigned to investigate a murder involving the military, his emotional war wounds flare. It is a case that strikes dangerously close to home--one that will test Rutledge's precarious grip on his own sanity.
  christinejoseph | Jul 11, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Toddprimary authorall editionscalculated
Giles, SamuelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gnade, UrsulaÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In this quiet part of Warwickshire death came as frequently as it did anywhere else in England, no stranger to the inhabitants of towns, villages, or countryside.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061242845, Mass Market Paperback)

Having just returned from France after World War I with a medal of honor and serious shell shock, Inspector Ian Rutledge struggles to settle back into his duties at Scotland Yard. When, despite his tenuous condition, an envious supervisor assigns him to a traumatic case involving the murder of an army colonel and a young captain as the prime suspect, Rutledge must gather all of his strength to not only solve the case, but fight the town people's prejudice against military personnel. To make matters worse, the prime witness is another veteran--on the brink of insanity--scorned by the villagers for what they perceive to have been less than honorable conduct during his tour of duty.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:44 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In 1914, Ian Rutledge left a brilliant career at Scotland Yard to fight in the Great War. Now, in 1919, he is back, burdened with a heavy secret: he is still suffering from shell shock. With him almost constantly is the cynical, taunting voice of the young Scots soldier he was forced to have executed on the battlefield for refusing to fight. In a desperate gamble to salvage his sanity, Rutledge takes up his duties at Scotland Yard. But a colleague, jealous of Rutledge's prewar successes, has learned his secret and maneuvers to have him assigned to a case that promises to spell disaster no matter what the outcome. In a Warwickshire village, a popular retired military officer has been murdered, and the chief suspect is, unhappily for the Inspector, a much-decorated war hero and a friend of the Prince of Wales. Rutledge, fighting his malady and the tormentor in his head (who is the personification of his own doubts and guilt), doggedly goes about his investigation. He digs into the lives of the villagers: the victim's ward, a young woman now engaged to the chief suspect; a local artist shunned because of her love for a German prisoner; the reclusive cousins whose cottage adjoins the dead man's estate. But the witness who might be able to tell him the most is a war-ravaged ex-soldier who chills Rutledge with the realization that if he loses control of himself, he could become this man.… (more)

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