Book Review: The Black Ascot by Charles Todd

Posted February 22, 2019 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 6 Comments

Book Review: The Black Ascot by Charles Todd

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Black Ascot Genres: Historical, Detective, British
Published by William Morrow on February 5, 2019
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

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Twenty-first in Inspector Ian Rutledge, the British historical detective mystery series that revolves around a Scotland Yard detective who struggles with PTSD and is haunted by the ghost of the corporal he had to shoot. This story starts in June 1910 in England.

My Take

It’s all about the pursuit of truth, no matter what.

It’s an intriguing start — and reminds me of Alex Grecian’s The Yard (Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, 1), with its initial inciting incident. It also demonstrates Rutledge’s compassion for his fellow man. A good turn that results in another.

We see the investigation through Ian’s eyes in third person simple subjective point-of-view, hearing his thoughts, his emotions, his interpretation of the clues that begin to open up. And The Black Ascot drove me mad as Todd dribbled out these itty, bitty clues that started the wheels turning, making me wonder which way this revival of a cold case would go. How Ian would find Alan Barrington, and if he’d remember what actually happened at his front door.

It’s some cast of characters! A few scummy ones, one who was truly evil, and quite a few decent ones. Along with a number who never spoke out, which doesn’t say much for their characters. And I found it very interesting that Sergeant Gibson actually stood up for Rutledge several times…since Gibson doesn’t like Rutledge.

I’m with Ian when it comes to wondering why the Yard didn’t put some investigative feet on the ground when he “shot himself”. Makes me wonder about that murder investigation during Black Ascot as well.

I do have a niggle. Sort of minor. But Todd was rather vague in a number of minor areas, including what Jane Warden was doing in that first house, and these little things drove me crazy.

The Story

It’s the little things, the impressions that rouse Inspector Ian Rutledge’s curiosity…and suspicions. Yes, the little things that begin to add up once Rutledge re-opens a ten-year-old murder case and re-examines the facts, the feelings. Those that didn’t make it into any report.

Then his sanity is suddenly brought into question by a shocking turn of events. His sister Frances, Melinda Crawford, and Dr Fleming stand by him, but there is no greater shame than suicide. Questioning himself, he realizes that he cannot look back. The only way to save his career — much less his sanity — is to find Alan Barrington and bring him to justice.

But is this elusive murderer still in England?

The Characters

Inspector Ian Rutledge is a roving detective for Scotland Yard. Corporal Hamish McLeod is the soldier he was forced to shoot near the end of World War I. Frances is his beloved sister who married Peter a short while ago.

Melinda Crawford is an old family friend with high (and mighty) connections who lives in Kent. She also appears in Todd’s Bess Crawford series. Shanta is her Indian housekeeper. Jason is the butler. Angeline is a gullible friend of Melinda’s.

David Trevor is an architect and Ian’s godfather who lives in Scotland. Morag is his housekeeper. Young Ian and Fiona are his grandchildren. Ross Trevor had been David’s son and almost a brother to Ian.

Jean is the woman who broke off her engagement with Ian. Kate Gordon is her cousin (No Shred of Evidence, 18); Mrs Gordon is her mother and despises Ian.

Alan Barrington and two others, college friends, were all in love with Blanche Richmond. Only Alan is remanded for her murder. Ellis lives in Kenya and is the cousin who is Barrington’s heir. Hathaway had been the old steward. Jonathan Strange is one of the partners at Broadhurst, Broadhurst, and Strange, the law firm that oversees the Barrington estates. Arnold Livingston is the current steward for the estate.

Blanche first married Mark Thorne. Harold Fletcher-Munro, a financial wizard, is her second husband. His London housekeeper is Mrs Shaw. Franklin is his driver.

St Mary’s
The Richmonds were the squires of the village. The Hollands bought the Richmond home. The Ramseys were close friends of the family; their daughter, Louise, had been one of Blanche’s friends. Louise married Donald Villiers who was killed in the war. Elizabeth works as a waitress at an inn.

Ullswater, Cumberland
Jane Warden was one of Blanche’s best friends. Her fiancé, Robin, died. Mrs Davenport is the cook; Mrs Jordan is the housekeeper. During the war, Lieutenants Darling, Browning, and Clive Maitland and Captain Austin recuperated at the house. Mrs Rhodes is the housekeeper at Jane’s own house.

Near Chichester, Sussex
Lorraine Belmont and her family have always been Catholic. Maud is the housekeeper? cook? Mark’s father had been a solicitor. The bitter Sara Thorne, Mark’s sister, still lives in the village.

Julia is Jonathan’s sister married to a local solicitor, Gardener. Jonathan’s father runs a jewelry store. Jonathan owns a house here which is run by Mr and Mrs Billingsley. The blind Alfred Morrow is a frequent visitor to the house. Mrs Porter is an aunt, I think. Oliver Ranson is the vicar.

Wendover, outside Dover
The overprotective Morrows live here. Rollins is their driver. Mrs Parkinson is their housekeeper. Williams is the lady’s maid. (Lizzie is Williams’ eldest sister. Nan is a sister who is housekeeper for an MP; Josephine is lady’s maid to a barrister’s wife; and, Marie had been a nursing Sister during the war and now works in Harley Stret.) Inspector Windom is investigating a murder and a beating. Sister Stevens is the nurse on duty that night; Sister Marvin in the morning. Jenny Harold had been a hooker with a heart.

Near Ascot
Frank and Sally Bradley had had a farm where the accident occurred. Nate Bradley is a third cousin who married Felicity Bradley, Frank’s daughter, and now runs the farm. Freddy had been Frank’s nephew, Felicity’s cousin. Tommy is one of the farmhands today.

Helmsley, Gloucestershire
Constable Biggins takes offense. Mr Waters is a solicitor and Nell’s uncle. Her father is the Vicar…and a coward.

Bramley, Worcestershire
Harold was the grandfather, John the father, and Clive Maitland the son who went to war after dying in a climbing accident. Dorian Alders is the rector at St James. Jasper is the family dog. And the Maitland home was sold to the Barnards who also took on the Maitland law firm. Mr Seton had been the previous rector.

Scotland Yard
Chief Superintendent Jameson is Rutledge’s superior, and he hates Rutledge. Sergeant Gibson is Rutledge’s contact at the Yard. Inspector Kendall is working a case. Chief Inspector Telford is assigned to the investigation at the end.

Dr Fleming is the psychiatrist who treated Rutledge after the war. Sister Peterson is one of the nurses at the clinic. Policemen who have died or retired since include Chief Inspector Hawkins, Inspector (Lieutenant) Johnson investigated Thorne’s disappearance, Chief Superintendent Bowles was Rutledge’s previous jerk of a boss, Constable Grant was the cop who was first on scene, and Inspector Putnam is the man Ian’s father hoped could dissuade his son (Sally is his welcoming wife).

Jimsy Poole is a retired and famous journalist who now runs a bar. Millie “M.R.” Hill wants to follow in her father’s footsteps as a journalist.

Eddie Wade is an ex-convict, recently released. Mary is his wife, and they had two children: Timmy and Ellie. Sadie Milling is his nasty mother-in-law. His sister married Hans. Cousin Maude was also ashamed. Danny was a fellow inmate.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a misty grayish green of a stormy sky in the background. In the foreground, the silhouette of a jockey atop a horse clears a hurdle. At the very top in yellow is a very tiny testimonial while an info blurb, in yellow, is at least twice as big below that. The authors’ name is below this in white, and the title is in yellow, slightly overlapping the horse.

The title refers to an event, The Black Ascot of 1910, when all the attendees at Ascot wore black in mourning for King Edward VII.

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6 responses to “Book Review: The Black Ascot by Charles Todd

    • It’s been a fascinating series with its historical setting, natch, but also with Rutledge’s PTSD and how he struggles with it. Especially in a time period when such reactions were seen as cowardice and punished horrifically. Todd is terrific too with their attention to the periods styles, manners, and mores.

    • I hadn’t known about Black Ascot either, so it was interesting to read and reinforces the mores of the time as Todd notes all the women being in black mourning Edward.

    • The series is reserved, and Todd does a beautiful job of conveying the sense of the time period in the clothes, manners, mores, and the technology of the time. If it helps, I’ve been buying the books up as and when.

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