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Thursday, September 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 51.0° F  Fog/Mist
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A Book A Week: A Test of Wills by Charles Todd

Charles Todd's A Test of Wills is so boring I can barely summon the energy to write about it. I really wanted it to be good because I am craving a good mystery. I was also in the mood to read more about Britain in the World War I era, having just finished watching Downton Abbey on TV.

Alas, this book was not even as good as Downton Abbey, which, despite its clunky plotting and lack of chemistry between the stars, at least provided some good eye candy in the way of houses, clothes and atmosphere.

Todd has written several mysteries set just after the war, one series featuring detective Ian Rutledge, and another battlefield nurse Bess Crawford. A Test of Wills presents Rutledge in his first case. He suffers from PTSD (known then as shellshock). Its most obvious manifestation is an internal dialogue Rutledge keeps up with Hamish, a soldier who was executed for desertion. It's an interesting device, especially when we discover Rutledge's relationship with Hamish and how he came to take up posthumous residence in Rutledge's head.

Hamish alternately serves as the voice of Rutledge's conscience and harshest critic. But this feature alone isn't enough to carry the story. The mystery itself is just dull, and the solution is infuriatingly manipulative.

Charles Todd is the nom de plume of a mother-son writing team. Amazon was offering the first volume in the Bess Crawford series for $1.99 on the Kindle, so I bought it. Maybe these mysteries will prove more original than Rutledge's. And I can always picture her looking like Lady Sybil Crawley in her nurse's uniform.

Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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