A Book Spy Review: ‘The Gatekeeper’ by Charles Todd

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The gatekeeperInspector Ian Rutledge returns for his 20th adventure in The Gatekeeper, the all-new mystery novel from Charles Todd. 

Set in December of 1920, Scotland Yard’s Ian Rutledge is driving late at night on his way home from his sister’s wedding when he nearly hits another vehicle stopped in the center of the road. Rutledge stops to investigate and finds a woman named Elizabeth MacRae standing over a body, her hands covered in blood.

When questioned, Elizabeth tells Rutledge she’s innocent, and that the dead man — who turns out to be a likable bookstore owner named Stephen Wentworth — was driving her home from a party when an unknown gunman stepped out into the road and flagged them down. According to her account, Stephen got out of the car and exchanged words with the mystery man before a shot rang out. After that, the man vanished into the night.

It is, altogether, a very unlikely story. . . and yet, Rutledge fights for the right to investigate the case further. 

After he finally manages to get himself on the case, over a local inspector with far less experience, Rutledge sets about investigating things by trying to establish who else might have had the motive to kill Wentworth. But that route bears little fruit, as Rutledge finds that Wentworth was generally liked by most, except for his mother, who has long held a silly grudge over something that happened when Stephen was just a baby. Beyond her, those who knew him thought Wentworth, a World War I veteran, to be respectable and admirable. 

Meanwhile, Larry Reed, the local inspector who lost out on the case thanks to Rutledge, clashes with Ian over the likelihood that the shooting was random. Reed’s theory seems to gain strength when additional shootings are reported. As always, though, Rutledge goes against the grain, dismissing the probable theory to chase a far less likely scenario that, as it turns out, is right on the money. 

Once again, Charles Todd (the mother-and-son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd) manages to embed a thrilling mystery deep within a twisting and turning whodunit that zigs and zags its way to a ho-hum climax that doesn’t disappoint. . . but won’t exactly knock your socks off, either. 

While the story flashes promise early, the pacing slows to a crawl around the midway point and doesn’t pick up steam for nearly a hundred (or so) pages. The argument could be made that the slowed pacing was done by design, to lay the groundwork for later events and to delve deeper into the characters — especially Rutledge — and the story’s location. The village where the killing took place, Wolf Pit, does have a rich history, and Todd spends a lot of time explaining as such. Still, the plot stalls for far too long before slipping back into gear and moving onward. 

Even so, longtime fans of the series will enjoy following Inspector Rutledge around while he attempts to solve yet another mystery set on the darkened streets of England. 

Book Details

Author: Charles Todd
Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge Mysteries #20
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 006267871X
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: February 6, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 6.0/10

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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