Racing the Devil
Charles Todd
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Buy *Racing the Devil: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery* by Charles Toddonline

Racing the Devil: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery
Charles Todd
William Morrow
352 pages
February 2017
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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The beautiful cover art of Racing the Devil is an exciting preview of Todd’s latest murder mystery featuring his endearing Inspector Ian Rutledge. Like an old friend, Rutledge--Scotland Yard’s most trusted detective--is a solitary man who prefers solving cases in the small villages of England over the more cosmopolitan London. Ian has a predisposition for resolving murders that is nearly as staggering as the constant advice he gets from Corporal Hamish MacLeod. In East Sussex in 1920, Ian remains haunted by Hamish, whose presence in Ian’s mind is as vivid as if the man himself had “taken up residence.”

Rutledge’s most recent case to solve is the sudden death of young Reverend Nathaniel Wright, killed when the motorcar he was driving crashed on a rain-soaked road between Dedham and Dover. Apparently, the car rolled after Wright lost his way. Death was instant; Wright’s neck snapped, most likely by a blow from the vehicle’s door. According to Constable Neville (who in a fit of panic decides to enlist Rutledge), the car Wright was driving belonged to Captain Roger Standish, a well-respected member of East Dedham’s local gentry.

Ian searches for an explanation to the problem of the borrowed car, which unfortunately creates unexpected danger for both Ian and Captain Standish, who says he got home late Sunday evening, the night after the accident. While Standish has no idea why Wright borrowed his car, or why he needed one, Ian is convinced that the site of the accident--the steep road in the Downs--is the perfect site to commit a murder. Ian is positive that a second driver followed at a distance, waiting his chance. Moving between the various villages that make up this part of Sussex, Ian retraces Wright’s last moments. He soon turns to St Simon’s housekeeper, Mrs. Saunders, for answers. A devoted friend of the Rector, Mrs. Saunders tells the Inspector that Wright was a great one for “comforting the dying.”

There aren’t many clues to go on in Racing the Devil, a particularly intricate case that at first flummoxes Ian, then leads him back to a pact made in the final moments of the War, a bargain made by a group of officers to meet in Paris with their motorcars after the fighting had ended. The plan was to race each other to Nice in a competition designed as an affirmation that they had survived the war. Captain Standish was part of the original group, as were five other men who survived the Armistice, and who all now live in England. Ian has a hunch that Standish isn’t telling the complete truth about the pact. He’s also sure that Standish is connected in some way to Wright’s death: “It’s an oddity here that makes no sense and I feel an obligation to get to the bottom of it.”

In a novel sprinkled with a collection of eccentric locals and chief suspects, Todd's embattled hero frantically tries to uncover Wright's last moments, as well as the motivations of beautiful Emily Stuart, who knew Standish in Paris and also knew the men who loved so closely together and shared a bond that had nothing to do with friendship or with blood. From the nefarious activities of the new priest, Jonathan Barnes (recently arrived in East Dedham to replace Wright) to the confidences of Emily Stuart and the sudden murder of rag-and-bone man Timothy Grant high up on the cliffs of Burling Gap, a series of new complications begin to surface over a group of men tied to a murderer intent to race away his own personal devil.

The case reaches a critical breakthrough when Ian visits Melinda Crawford. Never one to admit defeat, Melinda proves her mettle, brimming with fierce determination as she gets Bess to obtain critical information in Paris. The war reaches out its long, bony fingers from the grave, a haunting and melancholy vision that will perhaps finally break Roger Standish’s spell over the case. The complications pile up: was Timothy Grant blackmailing the Rector? Mrs. Sedley says she witnessed a quarrel with Grant and another man on The Downs. Who better than a rag-and bone-man to stumble over something nasty while doing his rounds and then try to turn it to his advantage? There’s also Jen Meadows, the teenage daughter of one of Standish’s tenant farmers who befriends Ian one night outside of Standish’s home. Jen’s quiet country life is upended when she finds herself in the cold clutches of a killer with Ian helpless to do anything about it.

As Todd’s gorgeous bucolic locales erupt in a burst of violence, it soon becomes clear that someone wants to kill in order to keep a secret begun in France, just before the Somme offensive. Todd’s tale speeds along as a face of evil becomes ever-more obscured by the skeletons of the past. Rutledge, a man for the ages, finds himself in the fight of his life against a cold-blooded murderer who seems to want to allude and deceive him at every turn.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2017

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