Cover image of "A Test of Wills," a novel about shell shock

The phenomenon we know as PTSD has probably been around since the time roving bands of Australopithecus afarensis beat each other to death with clubs on the savannah. But it doesn’t appear to have been widely noticed for what it is until World War I, when it was given the name “shell shock.” Then, the nightmare of trench warfare on the Western Front crowded millions of men together in a stalemate, subjecting them to the seemingly endless threat of sudden death in the artillery barrages that preceded every futile effort by either side to break through the other’s lines.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Shell shock from the inside out

In A Test of Wills, the first of Charles Todd’s excellent novels featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge of the Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard), Rutledge has recently been released from the clinic where he was being treated for shell shock. He has forced himself to return to work out of desperation, still haunted by the unimaginable horrors he experienced as an officer on the Front but unable to continue facing the mindlessness caused by the drugs he was forced to take. The armistice has been signed, the peace treaties are being negotiated, but the war continues for Rutledge in the person of Corporal Hamish MacTavish, a soldier who died under his command and continues to haunt him day and night. Todd’s portrayal of Rutledge’s suffering has the ring of truth.

A Test of Wills (Inspector Ian Rutledge #1) by Charles Todd ★★★★☆

Shell shock on the home front

Rutledge’s superior, Superintendent Bowles, is for some unstated reason determined to drive him from the force. When Bowles is asked to assign an officer to a difficult murder case in Warwickshire, he sends Rutledge, hoping that the Inspector will stumble into a trap that could get him fired. The trap is obvious: a highly regarded colonel in the British Army has been brutally murdered near his estate, and the obvious killer is the decorated Captain who is engaged to the Colonel’s ward; unfortunately, the captain wears the Victoria Cross, the kingdom’s highest honor, and is a favorite of the royal family, who will not look kindly on the embarrassment of finding their fair-haired boy in the dock for murder.

However, as Rutledge arrives in Warwickshire to take up the case, he quickly finds that the witness who has identified the captain as the murderer is a drunkard who is suffering from an extreme case of shell shock. And he’s not the only former soldier in the area who has returned from the war emotionally crippled.

About the author

Charles Todd is the pen name of Caroline and Charles Todd, the American mother-and-son team who write the Inspector Rutledge series of detective novels set in post-World War I England. There are now eighteen books in the series. The pair have written an additional ten works of detective fiction.

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