Book Review: The Black Ascot by Charles Todd
By Eleanor KuhnsFebruary 5, 2019
Scotland Yard’s Ian Rutledge seeks a killer who has eluded Scotland Yard for years in The Black Ascot by Charles Todd, the 21st installment of the acclaimed New York Times-bestselling series.
A chance meeting with a released convict gives Rutledge a clue to the whereabouts of Alan Barrington, an escaped murderer who has been missing since the Black Ascot. Ten years ago, in 1910, on the way home from that year’s Ascot, a fiery crash took the life of Blanche Fletcher-Munro and crippled her husband. Alan Barrington was suspected of tampering with the car.
But Barrington escaped and has not been seen since.
The police had searched Ireland, and everywhere else they could think of. Even Kenya and India, South Africa and Canada. It had been a long and thorough search and some people were of the opinion that Barrington hadn’t been found because he’d killed himself after he learned that the wrong person had died in the wreckage. That had been a popular opinion, that the crash had killed the woman he’d loved rather than the man she’d married.
Has Barrington finally turned up?
Assigned the case, Rutledge suspects the case review is a waste of time. But as he investigates, he discovers relationships and secrets that had not been revealed previously. He becomes convinced there is a lot more to the story than anyone knows.
As the investigation heats up, Rutledge is shot in the head and the service revolver is found in his hand. Now, it is his sanity that comes into question. Did he try to kill himself? He doesn’t remember. But there is no greater shame than shell shock. And Rutledge suffers from shell shock. Guilt brings the voice of a man that he could not save in the war into his head every day.
The voice in his head had followed him from France, from the trenches and the war. Rutledge knew very well that Corporal Hamish MacLeod was dead—he’d fired the bullet that had ended the man’s life. And after the war, he ‘d found and stood over Hamish’s grave in the Flanders mud. Yet he couldn’t silence the soft Scots voice that lived in his own mind. To try would be tantamount to firing his revolver a second time. He’d learned, simply, to endure.
Hamish, although he may be a figment of Rutledge’s imagination, serves as a sidekick, conscience and goad. And he is frequently correct.
Hamish’s voice came out of nowhere.
“Ye’re no deid.”
Suspended from the constabulary and humiliated, Rutledge realizes that even if he did try to kill himself, he must follow the investigation through to the end—both to save his sanity as well as the career that he loves.
There was only one way back to the Yard. He saw that now. Whatever happened on his doorstep, he had to leave it there. He would not survive without the Yard. He knew that with a certainty that had taken him to his first inquiry in Warwickshire two years ago in June: without the Yard he would be lost.
So Rutledge resumes his hunt for Alan Barrington and the truth.
Hamish is an interesting character in his own right, but it is the setting—the aftermath of World War I—that is my favorite. It is almost a character in itself, important not only in its impact on Rutledge but also as a window into the effect it has on all the veterans and society itself.
“He won’t tell me very much about his war.”
“None of us do. [says Rutledge]. It isn’t something to share, you see. What we’ve seen, what we’ve done, ought to stay in France. But it didn’t, it came home in our memories. They aren’t memories we want you to know. You are the world we fought for. Safe and sane and not ugly. Better to keep it that way.”