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Onyx reviews: Hunting Shadows by
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 03/23/2014
Inspector Rutledge of Scotland Yard is dispatched to the East Anglia area to
try to get to the bottom of a pair of shooting murders in nearby villages, two
weeks apart. Both
victims were men of some standing—one was a candidate for parliament and
the other was a captain during the war. Both were shot by a daring sniper during
public events—a speech in the village square of Wriston and a wedding at
Ely Cathedral, respectively. The shooter escaped unseen in both cases, or was
he? In one village, a woman swore she saw "a monster" in the parapets,
but she soon recants after she is ridiculed.
The police in the two villages
have done their due diligence in parallel investigations without any tangible
results. One of the biggest issues is that no one knows of any connection
between the two men, though there can be little doubt that the same sniper was
responsible for both slayings. The villages are close, but in the 1920s
proximity doesn't mean much. Villagers are clannish, suspicious of outsiders and
rarely travel far. The boggy, watery lowlands between villages makes them like
foreign countries until each other.
Rutledge doesn't travel to the countryside
alone; in fact, he never goes anywhere alone. He is always accompanied by a
nagging voice he dubs Hamish, after a man he was forced to execute during the
war. Hamish is his conscience and his subconscious combined, a kind of Greek
chorus that tells him things he already knows but hasn't truly considered yet.
Hamish is one manifestation of the PTSD Rutledge and so many others of his
generation suffer. He occasionally has full-blown melt-downs, but he is able to
function well in his role otherwise. However, he keeps a loaded gun at his home
in case there comes a day when he can no longer withstand the effects of shell
He isn't exactly welcomed with open arms. The local constabulary see
the intrusion of Scotland Yard as a slight on their skills, and they are all too
willing to point out Rutledge's lack of success after many days on the job.
"Early days," Rutledge responds over and over again, even after the
killer shoots another man and he has little to show for his investigation. This
isn't a forensics case: Rutledge has no physical evidence beyond a single gray
fiber and a shell casing. The only way to solve this case is via legwork, lots
and lots of legwork. He visits countless people, many of them multiple times,
often asking the same questions over and over again in the hopes that something
will jog loose a telling memory. Sometimes it does. Memory is a strange thing.
book reveals an interesting detail about public attitudes toward snipers in the
early part of the 20th century: they were often loath to reveal the nature of
their work because to shoot a man who had no opportunity to defend himself was
deemed un-gentlemanly, cowardly work, even though it saved the lives of many
others. Since Rutledge is looking for a man who was probably a sniper during WWI
who brought his rifle back to England with him, this prejudice against them
makes his work harder.
Todd, a pen name for a mother and son
writing team, create a seamless novel that feels like it was written by a
British author in the
1920s instead of nearly a century after the fact by Americans. There's nary a false step in
their period details, and the cloud of World War I feels like a recent
injury. The gloomy mood is set immediately by Rutledge's arrival during a
fog so thick that he cannot see the road in front of him, even when on
The cast of characters is large, consisting of the entire
populaces of two villages, which puts a heavy burden on readers to keep everyone
straight. The mystery, as it slowly gives up its secrets, is complex. Along the
way, Rutledge unearths a second mystery, one that people believe they understand
but which has a far more sinister truth that has ties to the shootings, though
in a most oblique way. It's all very clever and entertaining, a thoroughly
enjoyable crime novel, but don't be disappointed if you didn't work it all out.
Technically Hunting Shadows is a whodunit, but readers stand little
chance of solving the case ahead of Rutledge.
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