Book Review: A Test of Wills by Charles Todd

A Test of Wills is a satisfying, traditional English mystery with a nontraditional main character. Ian Rutledge is trying to rebuild his career at Scotland Yard following World War I, but PTSD, lack of clues, and secretive villagers are making it difficult to solve a high-profile murder.

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A Test of Wills highlights the havoc World War I wreaked on the British population. Just about every character in this mystery novel was impacted by the war in some way. The victim was an Army colonel, the primary suspect was awarded the Victoria Cross, and the lead detective is haunted by the voice of a soldier who was shot for treason under his command.

Rutledge is assigned the case three days after the murder happened by a Scotland Yard superior who, for an undisclosed reason, wants to see Rutledge fail. Arresting a Victoria Cross winner who is friends with the king would be disastrous for any detective’s career.

When Rutledge arrives in the village where the murder happened, he finds that the crime scene has been trampled, there aren’t any witnesses, and previous interviews with family and other villagers didn’t provide any useful insights. On top of that, the voice in his head is trying to undermine his confidence.

So, Rutledge starts from scratch, interviewing and re-interviewing everyone who may have had a connection to the case – the colonel’s beautiful young ward, the ward’s dashing war hero fiancé, a shell-shocked veteran who may have seen something relevant, and a troublemaking Marxist, among others. Using good old-fashioned detective skills, Rutledge focuses on why the colonel had to die, and why now?

The detective stalls out for a while, but finally makes progress by using logic and determination. This isn’t a whodunit based on a bunch of evidence – rather, Rutledge has to understand the people involved and what possible motives they might have to kill the colonel. I must say, I was surprised when the murderer was revealed.

The surprise reveal makes A Test of Wills a solid mystery. I also like the time period the novel is set in and the focus on World War I veterans. Additionally, Ian Rutledge is a well-developed protagonist. The author does an admirable job portraying the constant, relentless struggle many war veterans go through as they try to keep things together and move on with their lives.

Overall, A Test of Wills is a thoroughly satisfying mystery. I think mystery lovers and historical fiction fans will enjoy this clever whodunit.

What good mystery novels have you read recently?

7 thoughts on “Book Review: A Test of Wills by Charles Todd

  1. This sounds great! We are watching a British mystery series on TV right now – Endeavor – and this sounds similar. I just finished listening to Remarkably Bright Creatures on your recommendation. What a lovely, heart-warming book! I particularly enjoyed the voice of Marcelus, the Great Pacific Octopus – what a delight!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Historical fiction in that era sounds particularly interesting.

    My sister-in-law also just finished Remarkably Bright Creatures after I told her about your review and she liked it as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear | Book Thoughts from Bed

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