Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genre: historical mystery
Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge, Bess Crawford
Length: 192 pages
Publisher: Witness Impulse
Date Released: July 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Now published together for the first time: Charles Todd’s absorbing short stories—”The Kidnapping,” “The Girl on the Beach,” “Cold Comfort,” and “The Maharani’s Pearls”—featuring everyone’s favorite Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge and intrepid battlefield nurse Bess Crawford. These vibrant tales transport readers from the home front in Great Britain where ominous clouds of war will soon lead to the trenches of France, to the bloody front lines where Lieutenant Rutledge must risk his life to save his men. And finally to the exotic, dangerous India of Bess Crawford’s youth. Together they create a fascinating glimpse into the extraordinary backgrounds of two of mystery’s most popular characters.
This collection of stories makes a great introduction to Charles Todd’s two completely different protagonists – the professional police officer Ian Rutledge, and the amateur detective but professional nurse Bess Crawford.
All of the stories take place in the World War I and immediate post-war period, so if you have an interest in that period, whether courtesy of Downton Abbey or not, these are great people to explore with.
Especially since two of the stories in this series, the Ian Rutledge story Cold Comfort and the Bess Crawford story The Maharani’s Pearls, serve as prequels to their respective series.
Bess Crawford is a trained nurse who serves all too near the front lines during the war. Bess is in some ways a special case. Her father, often referred to as the Colonel Sahib, is a career officer who served in India, and continues to serve in some super-secret capacity during WWI. Though her connections to her father, Bess is sometimes able to circumvent authority, or at least drag more information out of it than it wants dragged. She also has a more thorough knowledge of how the Army works (and doesn’t) through her years following her father’s many postings.
The story The Maharani’s Pearls is a case in point. This story takes place during Bess’ childhood in India, and could be said to be her first case. It explores the relationships between the British military and the local population, and showcases Bess’ early talent for detection as well as subterfuge. When I picked this collection, I didn’t realize that I had read and reviewed The Maharani’s Pearls last summer.
Cold Comfort, while it is listed as #16.5 in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, is also a sort of prequel. The series as a whole takes place in the post-war years, where Inspector Rutledge, after his military service, returns to his pre-war police career after a hard-fought recovery from shell-shock. However, the story in Cold Comfort takes place during the war, when Lieutenant Ian Rutledge is serving in France. He has to use his detection skills to figure out just why two Welsh sappers are so intent on killing one Manchester miner, to the point where they are willing to blow up their own side in the process. This is a case where Rutledge uses his skill and intuition to figure out the very civilian motive for all of the skullduggery that is concealed within the ranks.
The other stories in this book, The Kidnapping and The Girl on the Beach, show their respective detectives in their more usual settings. The Girl on the Beach, the Bess Crawford story, is particularly good at showing the way that Bess often inveigles herself into investigations that should be none of her business. One of the things I particularly liked about this one was the police detective who finds himself working with Bess almost without realizing he is doing it. Bess, of course, does contribute to the solution, but the fun thing for me in this story was that the description and mannerisms of the police detective reminded me very much of Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War. Admittedly, Foyle actually served in the Army in WWI, but the detective still felt and acted like him.
In The Kidnapping we see that Inspector Rutledge’s faculties are firmly back on track after his recovery from shell shock, but that his career still needs some healing. He’s stuck on night duty because he has so little seniority, and his seniors are unhappy that he manages to solve a very sensitive case without their help.
Escape Rating B+: These are all great stories in their respective series. The Maharani’s Pearls and Cold Comfort would make excellent introductions to their series for anyone who loves historical mysteries or historical fiction in this period. We are able to see the characters start, and then in the later stories we see how far they have come since those beginnings.
If you’ve never dived into either of these series, this collection is a great place to start. And it certainly whet my appetite for the new Bess Crawford book, A Pattern of Lies, which I’ll be reviewing at the end of the week.