The Red Door by Charles Todd: A review

The Red Door (Inspector Ian Rutledge, #12)The Red Door by Charles Todd
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We pick up this historical mystery series once again as it has reached 1920, well past the Armistice that ended World War I, but that "War to End All Wars" still casts its long and dismal shadow over Britain and Europe at large.

Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard continues to bury himself in his work in an attempt to forget his traumatic war experiences. It is a futile effort, as the voice of the Scots soldier, Hamish, whom Rutledge had had to execute in the field because of his failure to obey a direct order, lives on in Rutledge's head, both advising him and criticizing his actions. At times, he expects to see Hamish materialize. He can't be sure that he isn't real. Yes, Rutledge still suffers mightily from PTSD, or shell shock as it was known at the time. It was considered a shameful thing. Its victims were thought to be cowards.

Rutledge is never the flavor of the month as far as his boss, Superintendent Bowles (known to his subordinates as Old Bowels), is concerned. Bowles spends his career making sure that Rutledge gets out of town and out of Bowles' sight as often as possible. 

I've never completely understood Bowles' enmity. If it was explained in an early book, I must have missed it or I've forgotten it. But whenever there is crime in the provinces that requires help from Scotland Yard, Bowles' preference is to send Rutledge.

In The Red Door, Rutledge is sent to investigate various crimes. He gets involved in a local crime "wave" featuring a young man who attacks passersby on a bridge, holding a knife on them and demanding their money and valuables. He attacks Rutledge, who tries to arrest him and is injured in the process. Rutledge was unable to stop him and he can't be found in the search that follows. The man continues attacking and sometimes injuring people and, eventually, the inevitable happens. He kills someone.

But this has nothing to do really with Rutledge's main case. It involves a prominent man who has gone missing from the hospital where he was being treated for a mysterious illness.

Rutledge searches unsuccessfully for the missing man, but finally the man comes back on his own with a very vague explanation of what had happened to him. Things get curiouser and curiouser when we find out that a woman bearing the last name of the previously missing man has been killed in a village in the provinces. Rutledge is sent to investigate and finds that the woman's husband was supposedly lost in the war, but that his name was the same as one of the brothers of the man who temporarily went missing. Is this just a coincidence or is there a family connection?

Meanwhile, Rutledge's godfather and the godfather's grandson come from Scotland to visit, since Rutledge won't go there because of painful memories. When they start on their return journey, their train derails outside of London and Rutledge rushes to the scene to discover if they are injured or killed. There, he makes another discovery of an injured person - the woman that he carries a torch for.

Do you get the feeling that the plot of this book is one hot mess? I think that's an accurate assessment. It seems that Charles Todd threw everything including the kitchen sink into the mix hoping that something would stick. None of the characters in this story, other than Rutledge himself, his sister, godfather, etc., are sympathetic. We really don't care what happens to them, and so as the body count rises, the reaction is to yawn rather than to be distressed.

I have to admit also that the voice of Hamish is beginning to grate on me just as it does on Rutledge. One wonders if he's ever to be free of it and one suspects that he never will be since it seems to be one of the major devices of Todd's plots.

This wasn't a terrible book, but it also did not much advance the story of the shell-shocked former soldier struggling to return to normalcy and to hide his shameful illness from others. This reader would dearly like to see the man, after 12 books on the subject, begin to come to terms with his illness and find some peace. Maybe even find some happiness. Perhaps that's too much to hope for.

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  1. Well, PTSD can go on for years and certainly the atrocities of war aren't easily forgotten, so I can understand the author in that regard. What I definitely have a hard time with is the character not growing or the story getting stuck in the same place throughout various books; that's maybe the reason why I've read just one series. Some books in series are just fillers.

    1. I enjoy reading series and I have several going, including this one, at the moment. But I agree with you that they have to move and grow. They can't just do the same old same old over and over again and keep my interest. It sort of feels like Todd is stuck. The treatment of PTSD is sensitive and I do appreciate that, but his character Rutledge is beginning to feel rather flat, and the plots are just all over the place. I won't give up on the series just yet - it is a very interesting period of history - but the writing has to get better.

  2. I remember seeing Charles Todd on the bookshelves at the store where I used to work. What is the title of the first in his series?

    1. "Charles Todd" is actually a pseudonym for a mother and son writing team. The first book in their series was A Text of Wills, published in 1996, and there has been one just about each year since then. I believe they are now up to 17 in the series.

    2. Thanks. Now that you mention it, I have heard about this writing team.


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