Hunting Shadows: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery (Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries)
Hunting Shadows is an exceptionally good entry in an outstanding series.
Detective Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard is a haunted man, shell-shocked from his time in France during the Great War. As a result, he hears in his head the voice of Hamish, a man in his command whom he ordered executed.
Rutledge manages to control the worst of the traumatic outbreaks by isolating himself when he feels an attack coming on, but is doomed to a live of solitude, for he has a fervent belief he could never inflict such terrors on a wife. But perhaps this is just an excuse not to feel any emotion too deeply again?
This outing is set in the Fens—the boggy and hedgeless fields north of Cambridge. The landscape highlights the inhabitants’ emotions of isolation and exposure. It was not until the English relied on those familiar with draining swampy lands—the Dutch—that the Fens was even faintly hospitable. In fact, a windmill figures prominently in this story.
Rutledge is called to investigate a shooting that has stumped local police; a man was shot from a distance while attending a society wedding in Ely Cathedral. Since all eyes were on the happy couple no one saw the murderer. But before Rutledge can get there another man, the speaker at a political rally, is killed in the same spooky fashion.
What’s the connection? On first, a second and indeed third glance there doesn’t seem to be any. When nothing comes of these lines of inquiry, Rutledge faces the fact he has to go at the investigation from the other end; the method of murder. The killer is a sharpshooter.
The thought of hunting down a sniper is harrowing for Rutledge. He used such men in the war, when no other option was available, but it was unsporting, indeed un-English to kill someone sight unseen. His disgust is shared by the villagers, so no man would boast of performing these unspeakable acts. Rutledge must find the killer through the only ones who might know such people—military intelligence.
When Rutledge arrives in the fens it is a miserable fog, literally and figuratively. He takes special care not to fall into a one of the deep drainage ditches and break a leg. The fog muffles everything, yet sounds seem to bounce around, and perhaps the killer is out in this soup- planning another escape, or hiding the murder weapon, all mere feet from Rutledge.
This blend of hero, setting, and plot is a textbook mixture of the essential elements in a classic mystery. These three fundamentals in equal measure are vital to a satisfying tale, but in many mysteries one or another are given center stage, throwing off the balance. Here, each leads the other on, seamlessly advancing the plot.
Rutledge’s outsider status gives him advantages—he can suspect anyone, whereas the villagers want to seize on the hope the killer is an outsider.
Since the reader is the ultimate outsider, seeing everything through Rutledge’s eyes, we are happy to explore and discover along with the Scotland Yard detective—even if we are sometimes uncomfortably close to being somewhat like Hamish.