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A Pale Horse: A Novel of Suspense [Paperback]

Charles Todd
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 15 2008 Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries (Book 10)

The Great War never relinquished its hold on Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, leaving him haunted and isolated, unable to forget. In the spring of 1920, he's dispatched to Berkshire to find a missing man whose war work is so secret even Rutledge cannot know its true nature. Meanwhile, miles away, an unidentified body has been discovered in the ruins of a Yorkshire abbey, clothed in a monk's robe and wearing a gas mask.

In the shadow of a great white horse cut into the chalk hillside—where cottages once built to house the sick and untouchable now shelter outcasts like himself—Rutledge must extract a terrible truth from those who hide from the past. For death is never quite finished with anyone, least of all the men who fought in the bloody trenches of France.


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A Pale Horse: A Novel of Suspense + A Matter Of Justice + A False Mirror: A Novel
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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The exemplary 10th Inspector Ian Rutledge historical whodunit (after A False Mirror) offers tight plotting and rich characterization amid understated but convincing evocations of post–WWI England. Haunted by memories of battle, unable to find a safe haven after his discharge from a psychiatric hospital and the abrupt departure of his fiancée, shell-shocked veteran Rutledge has returned to his prewar life as a Scotland Yard inspector. This time out, the War Office wants him to locate a mysterious person of interest, connected with (and perhaps the same as) an unidentified corpse found at a Yorkshire abbey. Rutledge toils diligently to uncover personal secrets and shames that may have motivated someone to kill, and their connection to a long-ago romance between the suspected killer's wife and the local inspector investigating the case. The mother and son writing as Charles Todd show no evidence of running out of ideas for murder mysteries that illuminate new aspects of their compelling protagonist and the horrors of the Great War. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Charles Todd is the author of the Inspector Ian Rutledge mysteries, the Bess Crawford mysteries, and two stand-alone novels. A mother-and-son writing team, they live in Delaware and North Carolina, respectively.


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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved the village below the horse!! June 8 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I can't put his books down. I had been to the Chalk Horse, so it even had more meaning for me!! Wonderful book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Mystery Jan. 31 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A gripping mystery! The author keeps you riveted until the finale, never giving anything away. I am hooked on Charles Todd.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Amanda Richards HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This slow-paced mystery is set in early twentieth century England. The protagonist is Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard, a man haunted by the ghost of a soldier named Hamish MacLeod, whose voice is his constant companion, conscience and advisor within his head.

The story begins with a group of schoolboys experimenting with alchemy by moonlight in the ruins of an abandoned Abbey. To their horror, they discover that they have apparently raised the devil himself, and swearing each other to secrecy, they run off into the night. The next morning, the body of an unidentified man is discovered in the ruins, dressed in a hooded cloak and gas mask, and next to his foot is a book on alchemy, property of the schoolmaster Albert Crowell.

Thus begins a long investigation into the identity of the dead man, the interrogation of the schoolmaster as a murder suspect, a couple of false trails, and the uncovering of a big cover-up by the British War Office. Along the way, sub-stories relate the circumstances leading to the death of Hamish and also the love life of the Inspector's sister Frances.

The trail takes Rutledge to a group of tiny houses in Berkshire, his job being to observe a man named Gaylord Partridge. The tourist attraction in the area is a huge figure of a horse, cut into the chalk in prehistoric times, and preserved in perpetuity galloping tirelessly along the hillside. Under the pretext of doing some horsing around on the cliffs, Rutledge learns that Partridge has disappeared, as he has been known to do on occasion, and that the occupants of the cottages all have secrets they'd rather keep hidden.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rutledge rides again Dec 26 2007
By David W. Nicholas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Charles Todd, for those who aren't familiar, is a mother and son team of writers who live in the Eastern U.S., and are both of them apparently fervent Anglophiles. They have, for the last decade or so, been collaborating on a series of mysteries chronicling the adventures of Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard. As far as a British mystery series is concerned, these books are very conventional in their structure and setting. Rutledge is almost always somewhere out in the rural British countryside, attempting to discover who killed someone in rather murky surroundings. The similarities to Richard Jury or Adam Dalgliesh are very obvious. There is one significant difference, though, and it's what makes the series stand out: the books are set in the period just after the First World War, and Inspector Rutledge is a veteran of said conflict. Even more unique, he's haunted by the ghost of one of his subordinates, a corporal whom Rutledge had to shoot and kill after the man panicked and tried to run away during a battle. The dead man doesn't blame Rutledge for the incident, not exactly anyway, and serves as a sort of alter ego for Rutledge. You're never entirely certain whether Hamish MacLeod's ghost is really there, or merely a figment of Rutledge's imagination, given that he was horribly scarred psychologically by the war.

In the current episode, Rutledge is first sent to a hamlet of cottages in rural England to find a single man who lives in one of them. The War Office wants the man found for some reason, though they won't tell Scotland Yard why. Rutledge has no luck, really, and is then recalled and sent in a different direction to look into a killing in another rural setting. The two incidents are of course connected, and Rutledge must settle things as further killings occur, and the plot becomes more tangled.

Todd is best with the rural atmosphere of England 80 years ago, and this is one of the better entries in the series. The evocation of the drawing of a horse on a hillside near the cottages is especially spooky. Altogether a good book.
48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not todd's best rutledge mystery Dec 31 2007
By David W. Straight - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Inspector Rutledge series from Charles Todd are 3-star and 4-star works: none rises to the level of greatness, none descend to 2-star level. They are decent reads. Pale Horse rates 3 stars: decent, but not memorable, worth keeping rather than donating to your local library. There's no groundbreaking here, nothing we haven't seen in the other Rutledge mysteries. There's an unidentified corpse, some less than professional police work (not by Rutledge), time spent in village pubs by Rutledge speaking to local residents.

There are some things which don't feel quite right. Rutledge spends a great deal of time driving back and forth between London, Yorkshire, Berkshire, and Wales, often late at night. Most other series involving Yard inspectors seem to emphasize travel by train. Yorkshire is 200-plus miles from London, and in 1920 there were no motorways. I would think that few petrol stations would be open late at night. Finding your way around at night would not be that easy, and 6-volt headlights (unlike the current 12-volt systems) did not allow a good rate of speed. Motorcar breakdowns were much more common: cars were not designed for sustained long-distance travel. I often found myself thinking about all this driving rather than the mystery at hand.

The story itself seems rather slow at times, and the denouement seems somewhat anticlimactical as well as centering on some improbable coincidences, and there were some large potholes in the story road, so to speak, that were left unfilled-in. If you haven't read Todd's stories, try some of the other works first. For alternative period pieces--mysteries set just after WW I, try also Winspear's books, and in particular, Airth's fine River of Darkness.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Like the pale horse of the Apocalypse, on his back rode Death" April 12 2008
By Amanda Richards - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This slow-paced mystery is set in early twentieth century England. The protagonist is Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard, a man haunted by the ghost of a soldier named Hamish MacLeod, whose voice is his constant companion, conscience and advisor within his head.

The story begins with a group of schoolboys experimenting with alchemy by moonlight in the ruins of an abandoned Abbey. To their horror, they discover that they have apparently raised the devil himself, and swearing each other to secrecy, they run off into the night. The next morning, the body of an unidentified man is discovered in the ruins, dressed in a hooded cloak and gas mask, and next to his foot is a book on alchemy, property of the schoolmaster Albert Crowell.

Thus begins a long investigation into the identity of the dead man, the interrogation of the schoolmaster as a murder suspect, a couple of false trails, and the uncovering of a big cover-up by the British War Office. Along the way, sub-stories relate the circumstances leading to the death of Hamish and also the love life of the Inspector's sister Frances.

The trail takes Rutledge to a group of tiny houses in Berkshire, his job being to observe a man named Gaylord Partridge. The tourist attraction in the area is a huge figure of a horse, cut into the chalk in prehistoric times, and preserved in perpetuity galloping tirelessly along the hillside. Under the pretext of doing some horsing around on the cliffs, Rutledge learns that Partridge has disappeared, as he has been known to do on occasion, and that the occupants of the cottages all have secrets they'd rather keep hidden.

Amidst conflicts with the War Office, his own office politics and local law enforcement, Rutledge painstakingly pecks away at the armor of the residents of the Tomlin Cottages, and things start heating up both literally and figuratively when arson and murder go hand in hand.

A solid read, except for a few questionable plot contrivances, and packed with local color, this story starts off on a high note, and hastens to increase the pace as it wraps up at the end, but dallies too long in the middle for short attention spans.

Amanda Richards, April 13, 2008
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Weaker than their previous books. Feb. 1 2008
By L. Fisher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Having read all of the Charles Todd books, I have to say that this one was disappointing. Rutledge is still an appealing character, but the rest of the cast is sort of anonymous and interchangeable. Too many characters, too lightly sketched. At one point I actually couldn't remember who one of the female characters was, and the pair of sisters who are prominent in the plot were confusingly alike. The men really blurred together in my mind, except for the vindictive policeman. When the body count began to rise, I literally couldn't remember which victim was which.
So while I like the series very much, I'd like to see them advance Rutledge's personal life a bit and develop the characters into more distinct individuals. A friend of mine who also reads these novels said she thinks that Rutledge is stuck in neutral, and I have to agree.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars haunting post WWI police procedural Dec 26 2007
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In 1920 five kids arrive at abandoned Yorkshire's Fountains Abbey with an alchemy book they stole from their school. They plan to perform a ritual to raise the devil, but instead flee in fear leaving behind the purloined tome. The next day a corpse wearing a gas mask is found near the book.

Scotland Yard sends troubled Inspector Ian Rutledge to identify the victim as the War Office has an interest in the body too. Although the Great War to end all wars may be over, Ian still suffers from battle fatigue feeling guilty for what he did and saw. His inquiries of the nearby villagers are met with suspicion as each seems to have something to hide. The alchemy book belongs to a conscientious objector schoolmaster, but he also offers little. As deceit seems the norm, Ian struggles to learn the truth while the pale horse of the Apocalypse reminds the shell shocked detective that death is the final frontier.

A PALE HORSE is a fantastic whodunit due to the mentally battered hero whose only respite from the ghost that disturbs him is investigating as this is what he did before he became an unrecognized war "casualty". The story line is fast-paced, but totally owned by Ian even as the audience obtains a deep look at an English village still reeling from the war. This haunting post WWI series remains one of the best historical police procedurals on the market today.

Harriet Klausner
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