Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review: A Fine Summer's Day by Charles Todd

A Fine Summer's Day (Inspector Ian Rutledge, Book #17)
by Charles Todd
Release Date: January 6th, 2015
2015 William Morrow & Company
Ebook Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062237125
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

On a fine summer's day in June, 1914, Ian Rutledge pays little notice to the assassination of an archduke in Sarajevo. An Inspector at Scotland Yard, he is planning to propose to the woman whom he deeply loves, despite intimations from friends and family that she may not be the wisest choice.

To the north on this warm and gentle day, another man in love--a Scottish Highlander--shows his own dear girl the house he will build for her in September. While back in England, a son awaits the undertaker in the wake of his widowed mother's death. This death will set off a series of murders across England, seemingly unconnected, that Rutledge will race to solve in the weeks before the fateful declaration in August that will forever transform his world.

As the clouds of war gather on the horizon, all of Britain wonders and waits. With every moment at stake, Rutledge sets out to right a wrong--an odyssey that will eventually force him to choose between the Yard and his country, between love and duty, and between honor and truth.

My Thoughts
A Fine Summer's Day is the seventeenth entry in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, but this one is different as it takes us back to before the Great War, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the events that led to the outbreak of war, and Rutledge's decision to forsake Scotland Yard to become a soldier.  I have always been fascinated with the after-effects of the war described in these novels so it was quite interesting to read about the beginning of the war, and how it swept across Europe and affected England.  As a history teacher who teaches about the world wars, I found this quite fascinating, and Todd did not disappoint.

At first, I wasn't quite sure about the plot and where the big mystery was as there were so many threads interconnected between different murders and different concepts that it took quite a while for all of them to come together.  Luckily, having read all of the previous novels in this series, I was quite familiar with how the author (I should probably mention here that Charles Todd is a pen name for the mother-son writing team of Charles Todd and Caroline Todd) wrote, and as a result, remained quite patient throughout the various crimes for things to begin making sense.  I find that Todd's descriptive style is so enjoyable that even Rutledge's psychological ramblings while driving from place to place are quite interesting. Rutledge's insecurities regarding his role as a policeman and his role as a future husband-to-be were more prominent in this book, and I like that his engagement took place on the same day Franz Ferdinand was assassinated as it lent a bit of foreshadowing to the story.  Rutledge did get into trouble trying to balance his social obligations with Jean and his work duties, and we  learn a bit about how the conflict between Bowles and Rutledge began.  

Even though readers are already familiar with Jean and what happened later between them, meeting her in this novel just confounds me.  I have no idea what he saw in this woman, and to be honest, she drove me batty.  I get that some young women during this time period were quite sheltered and weren't allowed to read the newspapers, but Jean wasn't just sheltered, she was naive and spoiled and despite having grown up in a military family, not very knowledgeable about the world.  She just had no concept of what drove Rutledge or really paid attention to what made him passionate about the world; she was more concerned about him neglecting her while he was doing his investigations and behaving like a schoolgirl and sulking.  Even pushing him to join the war effort because to do otherwise would be cowardly; in fact, war fever seemed to take over England during this time period with some young men even committing suicide if they were not allowed to enlist.  I actually came to root for Kate, Jean's close friend, and hoped that Rutledge would see sense, even though I already knew the outcome. 

A Fine Summer's Day is a prequel to the Inspector Rutledge series and I recommend you read this one first if you haven't read any of the books in the series.  While it is not necessary to read them in order, it does make more sense to do in order to get a sense of some of the background stories for recurring characters.  One of the things I did find odd in this book, and something I expected at every moment, is not having Hamish speaking up at the odd moment to give Rutledge advice or commenting (often negatively) on his decisions.  You only get a momentary introduction to Hamish in this novel, and some other names like Simon Brandon (from the Bess Crawford mysteries), names I jumped on eagerly hoping for more information, only to be disappointed by the tease.  What I am hoping for is a merging of the two story lines in the midst of the Great War.  I enjoyed this latest installment very much, and look forward to whatever comes next for Rutledge.