(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Even though they are Americans, like Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes, the authors who use the pen name Charles Todd write mysteries set in Great Britain with British police officers and characters. The anonymous mother-and-son team who write as Todd established their credentials beginning with A Test of Wills (1996), which follows the series’ central character as he restarts his career as an inspector at Scotland Yard. Severely shell-shocked during his tour of duty in France during World War I, Inspector Rutledge suffers from hearing the voice of Hamish MacLeod, a Scottish corporal under his command whom Rutledge had executed for refusing to obey an order, an order Rutledge knew was going to be suicidal to his men. Todd’s skill in incorporating MacLeod’s monologues into the fabric of Rutledge’s suffering and the details of the plots gives this series a psychological dimension often missing in series crime fiction.

The setting—Great Britain in the immediate aftermath of the war—allows Todd to explore the historical period and the changes bought about by the upheaval of the war and its impact on not only the returning soldiers but also the civilian population. The accuracy of the series’ historical detail, the nuances of the characters’ speech as well as their emotional depth, make the novels remarkable, especially given that they are written by two American authors.