After the high crazypants babytown frolics of The Tea Rose, I reverted to form and neglected to take great notes for the next book I read, A Test of Wills.
The Ian Rutledge series is one of the few series that the Yarmouth library owns in its entirety, it feels like. (Y’know, the more I bash the Yarmouth library on here, the more I wonder if they’re ever going to stumble onto this blog and learn how much they disappoint me. Then I remember that they can’t even add an Interlibrary Loan Request button to their website and I stop worrying.) So, phone in hand (to check on Goodreads for the first book in the series), I picked up A Test of Wills because I wanted to start a new mystery series.
I am not sure if I’ll continue with it.
Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard is back on the beat following his tour of duty during World War I. He has been released from the hospital and allowed to return to work, but he hasn’t told anyone that he’s been hearing the voice of a soldier he executed for insubordination mocking him in his head.
That’s … awkward.
Rutledge’s first case is the murder of Colonel Harris of Upper Streetham. Colonel Harris died from shotgun blast while riding his horse that morning. He ventures to the quiet town and starts investigating, with the assistance of Sgt. Davies, the local constable in Upper Streetham. Wherever Rutledge goes in his investigation, he meets resistance from the townspeople – they refuse to answer his questions.
The prime suspect in the murder is Captain Mark Wilton. And here’s where I got confused – because of the Britishness of it all, there were constant references to “the colonel” or “the captain”, and I wasn’t always able to tell them apart. Yes, I know that one was dead and the other alive, but when a third party is talking about an argument the two men had and it’s “colonel” this and “captain” that – I lose track of who’s who.
Anyway, Captain Wilton is engaged to marry Lettice Wood, the ward of Colonel Harris. Wilton and Harris got in a loud argument the night before the murder, and were seen arguing in the lane the following morning. But since Captain Wilton is also the close friend of the Prince of Wales, everyone in town is concerned about the fallout if Captain Wilton were to be named the prime suspect. Can’t embarrass the royalty, after all!
So the townspeople are all pushing Rutledge toward a couple of scapegoats: Hickam, the town drunk. But Rutledge learns that Hickam also suffers from shell shock, and sends him to the hospital to dry out and essentially clears him of all wrongdoing.
Option B is Mavers, the town anarchist. I see Mavers as a better-spoken Gabby Johnson. But he happens to have a shotgun, and he never locks his door.
To add to all this mess, there’s also Catherine Tarrant, Captain Wilton’s former lover. Rutledge learns that she fell in love with a German soldier who later died of influenza, and because this takes place right after World War I, it’s not cool to love a German. She is ostracized from the town’s society. Maybe she was jealous of Captain Wilton’s new love, and maybe she mistook Harris for Wilton?
But then, Rutledge learns that Harris had fallen in love with his ward, Lettice (who I want to be very clear – there is no familial relation between the two of them, Lettice isn’t like a cousin or anything). Maybe Wilton did kill Harris out of jealousy?
Here’s like, the one note I wrote down (after the character descriptions):
Rutledge is sent to Upper Streetham to find out who killed Col. Harris. Everyone suspects Captain Wilton, but everyone hopes it was some scapegoat, like Hickam or Mavers. No one will tell him anything, and he needs his intelligence to suss out the killer. Turns out it was … I don’t know, let’s say Moe.
I wasn’t really taken with the story. Maybe it’s due to the very Britishness of it all, but there didn’t seem to be any strong emotional stakes with the investigation. Rutledge was very diligent, and there’d be the occasional moment where he’d be hearing Hamish and responding to Hamish as if he were really there, but the moment passes, he shakes himself off and he goes back to work. I wasn’t kidding when I wrote “I don’t know, let’s say Moe” did the murder – I can’t remember who actually did it. I have no idea if the rest of the series is going to be like this (and Goodreads claims that there are at least twenty more books oh god). I might try the next one and see if I like it any better, but if I don’t? I may quit this.
A couple of quotes, then I’m done. This one is Rutledge’s perspective on Mavers (remember, the town anarchist), but it almost sounds like it could be used in a New York Times article about the “forgotten man” (although I’m not sure why they’d crib from a mystery novel, they pretty much just take talking points issued by the White House and refuse to do any real investigative reporting anymore anyway, the spineless asshats):
He’d met men like Mavers before. Hungry for something they didn’t have, and ignorant of how to go about getting it, hating those who had had life given to them easily. Lost men, angry men, dangerous men … because they had no pride of their own to bolster their self-esteem. [p. 90-91]
SERIOUSLY, just shoot Mavers over to Iowa, and NYT reporters will be shitting themselves to get a quote about why they voted for the orangutan who learned how to talk the best words.
(I’m sorry; that’s incredibly disrespectful. I took that a little too far.
I’d like to apologize to the noble race of orangutans for my impulsive words. I did not mean to compare your intelligence to that of … that. You have my utmost respect, orangutans.)
The final quote is from Catherine Tarrant, talking about why she signs her painting “C. Tarrant”:
“Yes, I know, no one expects me when the artist is introduced. Everyone thinks C. Tarrant must be a man. Or one of those masculine women who wear trousers everywhere and smoke strong Russian cigarettes. I’ve considered wearing a patch over one eye and walking about with a trained ocelot on a leash.” [p. 130]
Well, at least I got to make a reference to the greatest ocelot of all time; that’s worth half a star.
Grade for A Test of Wills: 1.5 stars