FIRE by Charles Todd
Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge returns in this sublime second novel featuring the haunted, shell-shocked veteran of W.W.I. Cowed by Ian's intelligence and unsettled by his silent demeanor, Rutledge's senior officer is eager to keep his subordinate far from London, so he sends him on a fool's errand -- to pacify a politically-connected woman who questions the blatant double suicide of her cousins. Soon enough, our hero causes a sad family saga to unfold, unearthing a string of questionable deaths. Rutledge's moral convictions demand the truth be known. But if the murderer is dead, what good can come of bringing the crimes to light? Seamlessly the suspense mounts to a shuddering climax as Rutledge allows his intuition to guide him while Hamish, the ghost of the Scottish officer he had executed for cowardice, growls persistently inside this charismatic detective's weary skull. First American Edition is likely the true first, though it's debatable. Available signed in both U.S. and U.K. editions.
PARTNERS & CRIME
Preview WINGS OF FIRE
By now, much of the mystery world is aware that Charles Todd is the pseudonym of a startlingly talented new writer. Since the debut of his multi-award-nominated A Test of Wills, rumors abound regarding this mystery man's "covert" lifestyle; from undercover agent for the CIA to fan dancer in a Atlantic City review (well, maybe not a fan dancer), no one knows - nor can they expect to anytime soon - what fuels this mystery man's literary engine. Still, what we need to know can be learned from Todd's protagonist. Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge is a sensitive, sharply observant man. Mature, humble and credible, Rutledge investigates murder and deals with those, often wounded souls, left behind. He is only too aware of mankind's potential for cruelty, but responds most often with kindness and understanding. This depth and subtlety of character could be devised by no less interesting an author. So with no further ado, let's learn a bit more about Charles Todd:
Q: Not many writer's can claim to be found in a slush pile. Fill us in - when did you start writing, what did you write, and how did you manage to get your first book published?
A: Charles Todd is mysterious because it's easier to have a real life that way. I don't have to live up to an image, I can concentrate on writing. That isn't a made up name, though, it's part of mine. Adventure and exploring places are important in my life, so if I weren't a writer, I'd probably be someone far more exciting. On the other hand I know a couple of people who were CIA, and they all want to write! I sent my ms. to Ruth Cavin because I'd heard she would at least read it. It's hard to get published, and it's hard to find an agent to get you published. I was hoping she'd tell me if the novel was any good--if it was terrible, I'd have a chance to rework it. If it had potential I could go from there. Then I got a telephone call from Ruth saying she liked it. Even then I just hoped it would do well enough that St. Martin's would ask for the next one. I never expected it to be such a success and I'm still trying to understand that. It scares the hell out of me sometimes! As for writing background I come from a very creative family, lots of music, a gift for words, a feeling for people. Everybody in my family can express themselves well on paper. I was just the first one to write a novel. I read a great deal--or used to, before writing this series took so much time. And I like movies, I like TV programs like The Equalizer, Columbo, Law and Order, Poirot and Holmes. I think movies taught me most about pace, because they are visual and I visualize my scenes.
Q: What made you choose England in the years following W.W.I as your period locale? How difficult is it to make sure Rutledge keeps his persona true to 1919?
A: I chose England for several reasons--I like Britain, for one thing, and I liked what it offered as a setting, people who have a long history of civilized behavior where murder is out of order rather than the norm. And yet Britain has had its own dark history at times, which a writer can draw on. I chose WWI because it is a modern period to all intents and purposes--except that in 1919 there aren't forensic labs second-guessing the inspector at every turn. He's more or less on his own, which means he has to think a given situation through, and concentrate on the people involved. I'm not good at "where were you at 4 pm last Thursday" but I find it challenging to work out why people kill and how you can uncover the truth behind the murder. For me, the murder itself isn't the key, it's the beginning of what's interesting. How difficult is it to keep my period and people true? I try very hard to get it right, because I think I owe that to the reader. I'll make mistakes, but the big trick is to think yourself there, not just write about being there. I know how the trenches look and smell and how the collars of the uniforms chafe the neck in the rain, and how hot the helmets are in July sun. I know what it's like to drive a muddy village street or how dark it is at night where there aren't any street lights and how the air feels at dawn eighty years ago. Because I essentially live it, in my head.
Q: Tell us a bit about Ian Rutledge. Protagonists are often compared to their creators, how is he like you and how is he different?
A: I'm not Ian Rutledge, and I don't know where he came from. He was just there, when I started thinking about doing a mystery. Michaelangelo said the figures were already in the stone, he just freed them. I understand that, because none of my characters are "created," they are alive to me. I don't know if this is "normal" or not. I'd say the only two things Rutledge and I share are a sense of humor and a liking for architecture. But I didn't give him either one. Many people are wounded in spirit, in some fashion, and I think that may be his appeal. He's not arrogant or supercilious, he doesn't hassle people if he doesn't have to, he understands that death is never simple and always hurts the living deeply. He likes women but he's been burned by Jean, and that too left deep scars. He's like most of us, very human.
Q: Discovering Ian carries a voice in his head is an arresting story complication and the reader comes to appreciate Hamish's commentary. Would you discuss this character-within-a-character at more length?
A: I don't know where Hamish came from. He was there, haunting Rutledge when I met him. War leaves its mark--and nobody in Britain was the same for a generation after it. We hear a lot about the Roaring Twenties, but the fact is, the average person spent the Twenties trying to survive 1914 and the influenza epidemic and find a way to make a living, not drinking champagne out of slippers and racing around in fast cars to the next wild party. In a way I wanted to write about the war. I had relatives in that war, and there were elderly women still alive in my generation who remembered lovers and brothers who came home gassed or died young. But I didn't want a modern war or a controversial war--I wanted what war had done to ordinary people, how it affected an entire culture, not its politics. Hamish is Rutledge's guilt for killing one man--but in many ways he's also the burden that a civilized man carries for killing any human being. Rutledge was a policeman, a defender of law. And yet he went off to a hellish war, killed men he didn't know and had no personal grievance against, and had to find a way to live with it. Hamish had to die for the sake of others--he was a sacrifice that had to be made to prevent chaos in the midst of battle--and the last night that Rutledge spent with him, Hamish talked endlessly about his life. And Rutledge had to sit and listen--it must have scoured his soul, leaving an indelible impression. In a sense, because of being shell-shocked immediately afterward, Rutledge unwittingly has given to this one man the life he'd had to take away. Which made the case in Warwickshire doubly horrifying for him. He had to judge for himself if Hamish was his own particular madness--or just a legacy of the war, as the doctors tried to tell him. Hamish is real to Rutledge--and so is sometimes antagonistic, sometimes supportive, sometimes part of his unconscious perception. I didn't know if people would respond to that, but they did.
Q: You've been quoted as saying you want to give your readers a chance to beat your protagonist as his game. That's a viewpoint less favored by the majority of contemporary mystery fiction (now more character-based than plot-based), in fact, it's a rather traditional viewpoint in that you give your reader the opportunity to pay attention to the clues and solve the puzzle themselves.
A: I try to play fair with readers. I try to let them see what the characters are like and come to their own judgments as they follow the tale. In Warwickshire, while the groundwork had been well laid, Rutledge was as startled as the reader when he discovered what had happened, and I felt that was important. It translated all that we knew about him up to that point into another person's experience with the same horror, and we could weigh both what the killer had done and the mirror existing in Rutledge's mind. In WINGS, Rutledge finally uncovers the truth, and then realizes the terrible impact it had on an entire family. Here are people who struggled for years against something they couldn't defeat, until one man who cares finally unravels the tangled threads and brings closure for the living and the dead. What haunts Rutledge is that he came so late to the scene. My English editor said it moved her deeply. I sincerely hope other readers feel the same.
Q: Can you tell us something about your current work-in-progress?
A: In the third novel, Rutledge finds himself with a narrow brief--and soon discovers that the case itself is actually far more complex than anyone wants to believe. The killer has already been caught, he's all but confessed, everyone is quite happy with the results the inspector on the scene has achieved. But there are questions that bother Rutledge, and he keeps digging until he finds an entirely different layer of facts. But where do they point? To the man sitting in torment in a Dorset jail? It seems that way, and yet Rutledge wonders if someone is letting a scapegoat take the blame. The question is, which scapegoat?
Q: What do you see yourself doing - or writing - a decade from now?
A: I see myself writing about Rutledge as long as readers want to read about him, because I like him immensely. Whether I do another series as well depends on whether I find a place or character I really like. One day, driving in the car or sitting in an office staring out the window, something will start to stir, and I'll know it's got potential. Until then, who knows?
Q: Our most requested query is "How do you write?" How many hours a day; do you compose first on paper, a typewriter or computer? Do you write at home or is there some place you go to lessen distraction? Vintage pen? Earl Grey tea? Smoking jacket with matching Elvis socks? Massive amounts of caffeine or the promise of a smooth single malt at the end of a completed chapter?
A: How do I write? Mainly on a computer, because it's so easy. But I scribble on pieces of paper, write whole scenes in my mind in the shower and have even been known to leave messages on my own answering machine. Speaking of pens--I've got a thing about pens, I've got one with Egyptian hieroglyphs on it and one with a tiger, another with a string of carved elephants--I even own a Victorian inkwell--and I covet one of the Christie pens, with the snake on the cap. I don't sip single malt or Costa Rican coffee as I write, mainly because the keyboard doesn't swim, but I wouldn't say no to either afterward. I write at home, because it's quieter-- still, I wrote one powerful scene in WINGS listening to PBS's Les Mis In Concert. I don't have a set time for writing or a set number of words before I stop. If the mood is there, I can do chapters--if it isn't, I can't write my own name. I don't own Elvis socks, but you may be on to something there!
Q: Do you read mysteries? If so, what are a few of your favorite writers/books?
A: Who do I read? I range from Forsyth and Higgins to Parnell Hall and a new guy, Charles Knief. Reginald Hill has two great characters to keep up with, and I've got a Peter Lovesey on the shelf waiting for my next break. I have a long list of women authors I really like too. I'm reading a lot of people I've been meeting, and that's been one the major pluses of conventions.
Note from the author: PS. Charles Todd is many things--but I can guarantee he's not a fan dancer. He's allergic to feathers.
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