Book review: ‘A Cold Treachery’ by Charles Todd

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

“A Cold Treachery” is set in England shortly after the First World War. It is important to know this to recognize the transportation of the time and the origin of some of the personal problems. This book is the seventh book in the Ian Rutledge mystery series and the first I have read. Charles Todd was recommended to me, and “A Cold Treachery” was the one available on Libby.

Inspector Rutledge was already in the north of England to testify in a court case when Scotland Yard was notified of the gruesome murders. Gerald Elcott’s family, five of the six, had been shot in their home. The oldest boy was not accounted for. Had he been chased down and murdered elsewhere; was he an escaped witness; had he done the horrific crime? In any case, there was a terrific snowstorm in progress, and Inspector Rutledge still had a drive to Urskdale. The drive was interrupted when Rutledge discovered that a carriage had run off the road and down into a roadside gully. Some investigation found a dead horse, an overturned carriage, and a young woman trapped underneath. The woman was alive, very cold and badly bruised, at least. With difficulty, she was extracted and taken to the car. The only source of heat in the car was what came off the engine, so it was important to get her to a house that had heat, something not so easy on a stormy night.

They were taken in by a nearby family, and the warming and nursing began.

Rutledge had examined the accident site and had found a handgun under the seat. As the woman warmed, they got some of her story. Janet Ashton had been taking the pistol to her sister as protection from a brother-in-law that Mrs. Elcott feared. The sister was the murdered woman. Janet Ashton immediately concluded that the brother-in-law was the guilty party and urged the Inspector to act on her belief. She did this as she and the inspector made their way to Urskdale.

Local search parties had been formed to hunt for the missing boy or his body. In the snowstorm, he couldn’t last long. Neither was found. The reader learns, however, that Josh survived, barely, due to sheep, a dog, and a woman who trusted her sheep dog. What the reader doesn’t know, however, is why Josh is running in the first place and why he is so fearful.

It was originally arranged that the search crews would report to Inspector Rutledge at the rooming house, but he soon felt the need to get out and do some investigation on his own. Using the Scotland Yard motor car to get around through the snowy roads, he visits the house where the murders took place and posits that if it was not a local who committed the murders, a person could have come over an old mountain trail. That is, if the murderer is not Josh or Janet Ashton, or Paul Elcott or ….

We learn that the Gerald Elcott family was somewhat complicated. Grace Elcott had been married before and brought two children into this marriage, a daughter and the missing Josh. To make matters more complicated, her former husband returned from the war, even though he had been reported dead. Robinson, the former husband, understood Grace’s decision and moved on. He had rushed back to find out the fate of his children after he learned about the murders.

The facts in the case are quite clear. Five people have been shot in cold blood. Josh is still unaccounted for, likely dead. If he is alive somewhere, he is either the murderer or a witness. Only a limited number have access to a handgun. Janet and Paul are among them. Scotland Yard expects results soon. And Inspector Rutledge is hearing a voice from his war past.

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