Hunting Shadows by Charles Todd: A review

I've been working my way through this historical mystery series for a few years now and the trip has mostly been enjoyable. But the previous book, Proof of Guilt, which I read last summer, was a big disappointment to me and nearly put me off. I haven't felt the desire to get back to the series since until a few days ago. Looking for my next book to read I came across Charles Todd's name and decided, why not?

I'm glad I decided to give him another chance because this one was a winner.

It is 1920 and memories of the First World War are still fresh. Many of the veterans of that war bear wounds, both physical and mental, that are yet to heal. Among the sufferers of psychological wounds is Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard. He does his best to keep his PTSD, or shell shock as it was then called, hidden. 

Rutledge is sent to Cambridgeshire, the Fen Country, to investigate two murders. The first was a former soldier who was shot while attending a society wedding at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. He was shot with a rifle by someone who was well concealed. The shooter was never seen by the wedding guests.

Then another man, a country lawyer, is murdered in the same fashion. This time though the apparent shooter was seen by an elderly woman, but her description of what she saw does not seem credible.

There does not appear to be any connection between the two men and the local police constables are stumped. Rutledge arrives on the scene to help and methodically goes through all the information that the constables have gathered. He re-interviews many of the witnesses and begins to form a theory of the crimes. It seems apparent to him that the shooter must have been a sniper in the recent Great War.

In the midst of his investigation, another man, a local farmer, is shot, but this man suffers only a flesh wound to his cheek and he lives. This confuses the investigation further. What possible connection could there be to tie the three men together? Is it possible that the latest shooting was only meant as a misdirection to put Rutledge off the scent?

This plot was very well-drawn and crisp. Although there were clues along the way that might have pointed to the reasons for the killings, I was confused right along with Inspector Rutledge and did not guess the real source of the evil until the clever inspector figured it out with his methodical and pragmatic police work and reasoning.

The story was rich in atmospheric details. The reader could feel herself enveloped in the claustrophobic pea soup of a fog that covered the Fens on occasion. The secondary characters were fleshed out and seemed integral to the story.

At the center of it all was Rutledge, a commanding and empathetic figure, whose vulnerable humanity is perhaps his greatest appeal, as, in order to do his job, he must constantly struggle against the darkness that threatens to overwhelm him. He is full of compassion even for the guilty, but he never loses sight of his duty, and he is always able to make clear-eyed observations and to see people as they really are. 

Yes, I'm glad I decided to give the series another chance.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars   


  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I read one book in this series a couple of years ago, but had forgotten all about this author. I'll look for this specific title. I think in every series there is at least one disappointing book, but if it's an author I've enjoyed, I'll give them a second chance and read the following book.

    1. Nearly all long series - and I read a lot of them - are uneven and have some entries that are disappointing, but overall, I have found this one to be well-written and interesting.

  2. These books always sold well at the bookstore where I used to work. I understand they are written by a son and his mother who write as a team. I do like mysteries in which I am as bewildered as the detective while he/she solves the crime.

    1. Yes, "Charles Todd" is actually a mother and son writing team. Often such teams don't seem to fare well, but this one has been notably successful.

  3. This one sounds like a winner.
    How interesting the aspect of mother and son writing the series as a team.

    1. It is an unusual combination but, in this case, it seems to work.


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