It's New Year's Eve, 1919. Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge has accompanied his sister to the home of mutual friends for dinner but gets a call from the office and has to leave. On the steps outside, he sees a brass cartridge casing, like countless others he's seen during the war. But this one has an engraving in the metal. Curious, he pockets it. Soon after, Rutledge is on the southern coast of England helping the local police capture a murderer. Work done, on a whim he drives along the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic and takes a walk out on the headland. Returning to his car, he finds another engraved cartridge casing on the driver's seat. He's been followed. The cartridge casing seems to point to the war and unfinished business there. To stay alive in the face of an unknown and unseen adversary, Rutledge is pressed to the limits of his skills. He's the prey. But who is the hunter?
Set in 1919, Todd's excellent eighth psychological whodunit to feature the insightful but haunted Insp. Ian Rutledge picks up shortly after the harrowing events chronicled in A Cold Treachery (2005). Rutledge travels to the remote and desolate English village of Dudlington after the town constable is shot in the back with an arrow while exploring a forest shunned by the locals. The inspector suspects a connection between the attack and the disappearance of a young girl, but he finds himself in an unfamiliar role when an unknown stalker targets him, leaving ominous clues that indicate that he's vulnerable at all times. Rutledge's fragile psyche comes in for additional battering from an enigmatic woman who claims to be able to contact the dead. Todd's plotting and characterization are, as usual, first-rate, and the tormented motivations behind the novel's dark acts are presented with a sensitivity and refinement reminiscent of the best of P.D. James. The ambiguous ending will leave both longtime fans and new readers anxiously awaiting the sequel. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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December 25, 2006
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Excerpt from A Long Shadow (Inspector Ian Rutledge Series: #8) by Charles Todd
Constable Hensley walked quietly through Frith's Wood, looking left and right for some sign that others had been here before him. But the wet, matted leaves showed him nothing, and the cold sun, slanting through bare trees, was more primitive than comforting. It would be dark soon enough. The light never lasted this time of year, unlike the gloriously bright evenings of summer, when it seemed to linger as if unaware of dusk creeping toward it.
And one particular summer evening ...
He came to the end of the wood and turned to retrace his steps to the small clearing where he'd left his bicycle.
Halfway there, he could have sworn he heard someone moving behind him, a soft step barely audible. But his ears were attuned to the lightest sound.
Wheeling about, he scanned the trees around him, but there was no one to be seen through the tangle of undergrowth and trunks. No one living ...
Imagination, he told himself. Nerves, a small voice in his head countered, and he shivered in spite of himself.
After a moment he went hurrying on, not looking back again until he'd retrieved his bicycle and mounted it. Then he scanned Frith's Wood a final time, wondering how a place so small could appear to be so gloomy and somehow threatening, even in winter.
The Saxons, so it was said, had beheaded men here once, long ago. Taking no prisoners, unwilling to be hindered by captives, they'd come only for booty, and nothing else. Not slaves, not land or farms, just gold or silver or whatever else could be bartered at home. A greedy people, he thought, giving his bicycle a little push to start it forward. Greedy and bloody, by all accounts. But nearly fifteen hundred years later, the name of the wood hadn't changed. And no one cared to set foot there after dark.
He was glad to be out of it.
Yet he could still feel someone watching him, someone on the edge of the wood, someone without substance or reality. Dead men, most likely. Or their ghosts.
He didn't look again until he'd reached the main road. Out of the fields, away from the wood, he felt safer. Now he could pedal back the way he'd come, make the turning at The Oaks, and sweep down into Dudlington. Anyone seeing him would think he'd been at the pub, or sent for from Letherington. He'd been clever, covering his tracks. It made sense to plan ahead and not go rushing about. If he had to go there.
Of course a really clever man, he told himself, would stay away altogether.
The way behind him was still empty.