- - Thursday, January 18, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

THE GATE KEEPER: AN INSPECTOR IAN RUTLEDGE MYSTERY

By Charles Todd

Harper Collins, $26.99, 320 pages

It is an excellent launching of a mystery, with a newly shot corpse on the road in front of two people returning from a wedding.

Unfortunately Charles Todd’s latest thriller does not live up to its promise. Which is surprising since his plotting is usually excellent. In this case the book seems full of clues that turn out to be red herrings. The secret of the gate keeper remains too long a secret. It is indeed the heart of the mystery yet the author buries it in a slew of characters and hangs his plot on a hook. There is real evil involved here yet he does not focus on it until the plot is disclosed.



Ian Rutledge, an English officer and survivor of World War I, is the book’s controlling character, and he is unfortunately still haunted by the ghostly voice of Hamish as his penance for shooting one of the Highlander’s platoon. The voice of Hamish has growled its way through Rutledge’s life since his return from the war. Hamish offers constant advice and even warnings and probably would relish seeing Rutledge die as an ultimate punishment. The officer is a miserable man, having lost his fiancee during the war and having had her death reported later.

He has never recovered from the loss of his first love despite meeting other women, and he has clung to his relationship with his sympathetic sister who is now lost to him through her recent marriage. But it is Hamish who dominates his mind and his life, and readers may be weary of the character who imposes guilt and seems determined never to let Rutledge forget what the spectral Scot believes was a crime in the trenches — one that also robbed a young women of her lover.

Rutledge takes over the case of the post-wedding body on the road as well as the potential problem of the young woman present when the crime was committed. Like several other characters, she is suspected but proved innocent after what seems like a halfhearted investigation. It is not surprising that Rutledge’s superiors at Scotland Yard are not enthusiastic about his work. He plods along and nothing seems to happen. Not even murders pick up the pace of the plot.

The personal problems of Rutledge preoccupy the book more than usual. It is as though he will never be able to forget either the war or dispose of the constant misery of Hamish, who was an interesting addition to previous mysteries and has now become little more than a pest and even a bore.

Rutledge is in a rut and there is no other way to describe him. He is dealing with the murder of a well-liked man who seems an unlikely target for anyone except his mother who hated him for the strangest of reasons and even worse, made his life miserable as her revenge.

There is not really enough of the psychological problems of the malevolent mother until the book is nearing its end, and even the solution to the problems takes Rutledge well over the country yet brings him no closer to alleviating his own bitter unhappiness. Sadder still, there is no sign that Hamish is likely to be disposed of any time soon, which is likely to be a disappointment to the readers.

“The Gate Keeper” pivots on a tantalizing idea that should have emerged as an intriguing study of a wicked woman and what she does to her family. She is a lot more interesting than Hamish, but then who wouldn’t be?

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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