Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mystery Book Review: A Pale Horse by Charles Todd

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written a review of A Pale Horse by Charles Todd. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

A Pale Horse by Charles ToddBuy from Amazon.com
A Pale Horse by
An Ian Rutledge Mystery

William Morrow (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-06-123356-0 (0061233560)
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-123356-2 (9780061233562)
Publication Date: January 2008
List Price: $23.95

Synopsis (from the publisher): Late on a spring night in 1920, five boys cross the Yorkshire dales to the ruins of Fountains Abbey, intent on raising the Devil. Instead, they stumble over the Devil himself, sitting there watching them. Terrified, they run for their lives, leaving behind a book on alchemy stolen from their schoolmaster.

The next morning, a body is discovered in the cloisters of the abbey–a man swathed in a hooded cloak and wearing a gas mask. There are no clues other than the left–behind book. In an effort to uncover the dead man's identity, one of the police constables, who fancies himself a portraitist, sketches a likeness to send to other police stations. It turns out there's a strong chance the man worked on poisoned gases for the British government after the Germans had used them at Ypres during the late war.

Scotland Yard dispatches Inspector Rutledge to confirm the ID and to find out why the man died in such mysterious circumstances. Rutledge begins his investigation, dealing with villagers who clearly have something to hide and trying to decipher if the death links back to the Great War. And what does the huge chalk sculpture of a pale horse of the Apocalypse have to do with the crime?

Review: The mother and son team of Caroline and Charles Todd (writing as Charles Todd) have crafted a wonderfully atmospheric story in A Pale Horse, the tenth mystery in this series featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge.

It is April, 1920. A man has been murdered in an abbey in Yorkshire. The unusual circumstances of the crime are that he was clothed in a monk's robe and a gas mask, similar to those worn by the Germans when they released their lethal gasses in the Great War. He was also found with a book on alchemy. His identity is unknown. And he was not killed where he was found, rather his body moved there sometime after his murder. Meanwhile, a man has gone missing in Berkshire, over 200 miles to the south of Yorkshire. Inspector Rutledge is sent to investigate but isn't even given the name of the missing man. A link between these two cases seems unlikely and yet, as Rutledge begins to ask questions, he's not sure they aren't. In nearby Wiltshire, a village lies beneath a green knoll where centuries ago a chalk white horse was etched into the limestone. Below the horse is a community of old homes originally built for lepers, outcasts from society. The current residents also want to separate themselves from others, but for reasons known only to them. With no one admitting to knowing anything, Rutledge must use every resource available to him to determine what has happened and why.

A Pale Horse is a brilliantly written mystery, carefully and meticulously plotted. Rutledge, who suffers from shell shock from his service in the Great War, and his inner self, Hamish McLeod, make a terrific investigative "team". Other characters are equally memorable and add immeasurably to the thrill in following the investigation as it crosses the counties of England. At times Rutledge isn't even sure he's pursuing someone, yet he must continue as he believes that he has to speak for the dead.

The title no doubt refers to the horsemen of the apocalypse, the fourth of which, Death, rides a pale horse. It's deceptively clever. A Pale Horse is a hard book to set down as seemingly each page offers another opportunity for intrigue. It is highly recommended.

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of for contributing her review of A Pale Horse and to HarperCollins for providing a copy of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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