Monday, August 23, 2010
The Red Door: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery (An Ian Rutledge Mystery)
by Charles Todd
I am afraid I am becoming a cranky blogger. The Red Door was recommended by many people but I did not like it. It is the 12th in the Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd. Let me count the ways…
I understand when you pick up a book in a series that you have not read before you have to be prepared to jump in and accept some character aspects that are not as richly understood as when you’ve read the books from the beginning. But I do expect the author to include a few sentences that brings me up to date on the characters and key elements of their back-story. Sue Grafton does this in every single Kinsey Millhone story, she does it in the first few pages, it is short enough not to bore regular readers and detailed enough to bring new readers up to date. The Red Door doesn’t do this at all. Ian Rutledge had horrific WWI trench experiences (I guess). There is a voice in his head named Hamish, I assume there is a back-story, it is never summarized. There is a woman Marion Channing, they have a history, I assume, it is never summarized. An author needs to be able to reintroduce characters in a nuanced way so that books work for readers. I think any book in a series should be able to stand alone as a story; this one doesn’t in my opinion.
Among my favorite mysteries are those that are set in a distinctive time or place. This story is set in the immediate post WWI period, but you would never know it. There are very few details given that are distinctive to that time period. Other than characters using a crank to start their automobiles nothing else jumps to mind. To contrast again, the Maisie Dobbs series is brimming over with detail of the same time and place.
The characters that form the center of the mystery – the Teller Family – were difficult to tell apart because they were not well developed. I could never form a mental picture of the three brothers or their spouses all of whom were prime suspects in the murder. If they had passions or even emotions I could not detect them. I ended up not relating to any of these characters and therefore not caring who dunnit!
I did think the basic plot was good enough; there were several twists that provided action and moved the narrative along. The secondary plot was believable and well integrated into the novel.
The author Charles Todd is actually a mother/son writing team who live on the east coast of the US. They have also written a new series – Duty to the Dead – which I read and liked. I guess the lesson is you cannot always come late to the party. Faithful readers will most probably like this one; all of the rest of us need to start at the beginning!