Set in post-World War I England, The Red Door: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery follows eccentric Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge as he hunts down a murderer who has bludgeoned a woman to death and also tries to unravel the mystery of a disappearing and re-appearing battle-scarred aristocrat who suffers from bouts of paralysis and amnesia. Adding to the suspense is a murderous stalker who, through mistaken identity, has been killing off Ian Rutledge look-alikes. The Watson to Rutledge's Holmes is a ghost named Hamish.
The Red Door is the twelfth book in the Ian Rutledge Mystery series, authored by the mother/son writing team known as Charles Todd. For those who are familiar with the series this book is another feather in the cap of the Charles Todd duo. The Red Door weaves the past books into the story, bringing older characters back into Rutledge's life. There is a transitional feel to this novel, as if the authors are shifting the focus of the Rutledge character. Along with good suspenseful storytelling, there are some serious changes in Rutledge's personality, and in Hamish's personality as well. You know things are going to be completely different in the next novel; we've seen Rutledge's romantic side evolve and Hamish's amusing, yet guilt-inducing voice begin to diminish.
For those who haven't read the other Ian Rutledge books, I'd say The Red Door is not a book for the uninitiated. It offers very little background on the characters or their relationships. A new reader would get the feeling that they've walked into the story mid-conversation. And they have.
Perhaps the authors felt that adding information from the past books would have made the novel too bulky; it's already hefty at 344 pages hardbound, but some authors have created a formula for doing this that works well. Sue Grafton begins each of her ABC Murders books with a very brief introduction from main character Kinsey Millhone that works in significant history and relevant characters. Lilian Jackson Braun, the creator of The Cat Who series, also has her own unique way of adding information from past books that doesn't bog down her regular readers.
For a period piece there isn't much description to acclimate the new reader to time or place. There is a clear assumption that Rutledge himself suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome, which apparently involves Hamish, but why he has a ghost following him from his time in battle is unclear. Without substantial background information, the new reader would be at a loss. Rutledge has other peculiarities that have developed over the course of the books as well. It would be impossible to understand, or appreciate, his unique idiosyncrasies without some history as a guide.
Overall, The Red Door works well as a murder mystery, and it would be a great book for fans of the series; however, I wouldn't recommend it as a first foray into the New York Times best-selling series. You'd be well advised to read the earlier novels first.