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Charles Todd
A Fine Summer's Day
Wm Morrow / HarperCollins
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-062-23712-5
Publication Date: 01-06-2015
368 Pages; $26.99
Date Reviewed: 01-15-2015
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2015

Index:  Mystery

One of the joys of reading a series of books is to see the characters grow and change, all within certain limits, so that a sense of familiarity lets us feel comfortable. There's nothing wrong with "comfort reading." Within its so-called confines, one can find challenging and invigorating stories, new perspectives on one's own life and yes, simple pleasure.

When you open up an Ian Rutledge novel by the writing team of Charles Todd, you have a decent idea of what you're going to find; a solid story, a historical setting, an organic sense of suspense and some nicely-turned observations of war and its echoes. Credit the writers then, for turning everything upside-down with the latest entry in the series, 'A Fine Summer's Day,' a prequel set before the First World War. Knowing what is to come makes finding out what will happen all the more enjoyable.

'A Fine Summer's Day' begins with shots fired, including one heard 'round the world. We meet a very different Ian Rutledge. He's smart, yes, but as yet unfazed by life. He's engaged to Jean, the beautiful blonde who, as we meet and get to know her, seems far too shallow for the man Rutledge is destined to become. Rutledge is tasked by the always-odious Bowles with solving a string of murders all about England. It's just the kind of case we like to see, but Rutledge's — and England's — minds are elsewhere. Marriage and war loom large.

With 'A Fine Summer's Day,' the writers are just as interested in capturing the fever for the war to come as they are in apprehending the villain, and they do a spectacular job at crafting this atmosphere in the background. We don't hear what we now know about the war. Instead, Rutledge, when he's not trying to make it to parties peopled by the vapid over-class he's hoping to enter, is immersed in pro-war propaganda. It's chilling to read both because we know what it means to the characters, but as well what it means to us, having just endured our own round of gung-ho followed all-too-quickly by what-the-hell? Perhaps "What fresh hell?" is better.

'A Fine Summer's Day' works on many levels. By itself it is an effective mystery and vision of pre-war Britain. In concert with the rest of the series, it's immensely entertaining to see the before-war Rutledge. If you've not read the series, this might make a great place to start ... but the pleasure of seeing the shadow before the sun is quite considerable. With 'A Fine Summer's Day,' comfort reading and cognitive dissonance easily coexist, and declare a truce to end all truces.

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