I was first caught up in Jacqueline Winspear's mysteries, such as Maisie Dobbs and An Incomplete Revenge, exploring the world of a nurse, turned private investigator, who suffered shellshock during World War I. When I read Charles Todd's Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, I discovered a different view of the aftereffects of the Great War. The latest book in the series, A Pale Horse, examines the feeling of guilt.
Rutledge himself spent 1914-1918 fighting in France, and he brought back terrible memories, including that of the death of a man named Hamish, who haunts Rutledge, and speaks to him. This series, and A Pale Horse, cannot be discussed without mentioning Rutledge's past. His experiences color his investigations.
A Pale Horse opens in the ruins of an abbey, where a group of schoolboys took their schoolmaster's alchemy book to try to raise the devil. When then discovered a dead man, wearing a gas mask and a black cape, they fled in fear, swearing not to talk about it. The local police immediately latched onto the schoolmaster as their suspect.
However, Scotland Yard has an unusual request from the War Office. A man went missing in Berkshire, and Inspector Rutledge is sent to check out his disappearance. It doesn't take long for him to determine the boys know something about the dead man, and that man may be Rutledge's missing person. Despite these first steps, Rutledge's case is complicated by the lack of knowledge about Partridge, his missing person. And, the people who lived near Partridge are eager to keep their own secrets, so they want no part of the case.
Throughout this complicated investigation, Rutledge encounters people unwilling to acknowledge relationships or reveal secrets. The Great War left many people with guilt, including Rutledge himself. The book's stories tell of the guilt of the people who fought, and those who didn't, those who tried to end the war by extraordinary means, and those who suffered as a consequence. It tells of the pain of people who forced to take action, such as Rutledge, and the guilt and memories they suffer. A Pale Horse is a powerful story of the past, and the people who continue to suffer as a result of war, and as a result of lack of understanding of the past.