A Book Spy Review: ‘The Black Ascot’ by Charles Todd

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The Black AscotInspector Ian Rutledge’s 21st case proves to be his most difficult yet in the latest historical fiction thriller from Charles Todd. 

Set in the early 1920s, Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge happens to be running from his problems when he inadvertently stumbles upon a crisis situation. After lending a hand, a grateful village thanks him by offering a juicy tip: Alan Barrington was recently seen in England. 

Eleven years earlier, Alan Barrington was accused of rigging a car belonging to Blanche Thorne, inducing a fatal car crash that also left her new husband severely injured during the Black Ascot, a royal horserace honoring the late King Edward VII. Scotland Yard put their best inspectors on the case but came up empty–with many believing Alan was able to slip out of the country. Since then, Barrington has been among the most wanted men in all of England, and word of his return leads to Rutledge asking his bosses for permission to re-open the case. They oblige, and soon the famed detective is chasing old ghosts down a winding road of deceit and false leads. 

Rutledge, who’s in a bit of a bad way himself here, struggles to keep his nerve while interviewing Barrington’s family, friends, and known acquaintances. Each refuses to confirm that Barrington is alive, let alone back in England. That prompts Rutledge to wonder why the man would risk coming back after all these years, questioning whether or not his return is fueled by the desire to clear his name or to kill again. Instead, he finds a deeper conspiracy that leaves everyone questioning him as he slowly doubts his own abilities like never before. To save face, Rutledge must make sense of everything and solve the case once and for all . . . but even he’s not sure he can this time. 

Newcomers to the series should know that Rutledge left World War I a damaged soul who hears the voice of a fallen soldier in his head. That voice, belonging to a man named Hamish, works like an invisible sidekick of sorts and plays an active role in Rutledge’s success over past books. One of the author’s (the mother and son writing duo of Caroline and Charles Todd) strengths has been their ability to bring the post-WWI England atmosphere to life in a vibrant way that few other current series dare to explore. That said, the pacing is very slow, which has been per the norm for this franchise. Things take a long time to develop, and the needed backstory and descriptions bring the pacing to a crawl before picking up in the final act. While that may bother those in search of a quick, page-turning thriller, readers craving a delicious mystery will feel right at home here, and the well-thought-out plot is interesting enough to hold readers’ attention. 

Now twenty-one books in, Charles Todd continues to churn out solid mysteries that require thought and patience but always seem to pay off in the end. The Black Ascot isn’t for everyone, but longtime fans of this series will enjoy seeing Inspector Rutledge work another case like only he can.

Book Details

Author: Charles Todd
Series: Inspector Ian Rutledge #21
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0062678744
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: February 5th, 2019
Book Spy Rating: 7.0/10

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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