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I have written before about my paternal grandfather, here and here.  Tonight's book reminded me of Granddad and has prompted me to do a little more digging into his World War I service.

He never spoke to me, or my brothers, about his service in The Great War, but he did to my uncle, who shared a story with me some years ago. At the beginning of WWI, Granddad enlisted in the 1st Scottish Horse of the Black Watch (Royal Highlanders). Headquartered in Dunkeld, Scotland, the 1st Horse was initially used as a Home Guard until August of 1915 when they were shipped out to Suvia Bay to participate in the Gallipoli battle. That is when they were dismounted and re-equipped as infantry. There they fought under the 2nd Mounted Division which also included Lovat's Scouts. Here is Granddad, when he still had a horse, before Gallipoli:

Scottish soldier, WWI era, mounted
Granddad, mounted, 1st Scottish Horse, somewhere in Scotland, c. 1914-1915
By the end of December, he and the other survivors of his brigade were sent to Egypt to be reorganized. There were so few remaining that they were absorbed into the 1st Dismounted Brigade and used for the defense of the Suez Canal. On October 1st of 1916, they were joined with members of the 2nd and 3rd Scottish Horse Regiments into the 13th (Scottish Horse Yeomanry) Battalion, which is the name they would retain throughout the rest of the war.

While in the 13th, Granddad served as a sniper for Major Dewar (not Colonel Teacher as the family myth told it) of the Dewar Scotch Whisky family. His sharpshooter skills were useful in bringing down game for the Officer's Mess:

British soldier with gazelles
In North Africa, with other snipers and their game, Granddad is the good-looking one on the left with the pipe.
Within three weeks of its formation, on 21 October 1916, the 13th Scottish Horse was shipped to Salonika in Macedonia. The Salonika campaign was complicated by a civil war in what was neutral Greece. This resulted in two separate Greek governments, one supporting the Allies and the other, led by the monarchy, working with the Central Powers.

According to my uncle, a Greek soldier had come over to the British side with information about the royalist Greek Army movements. He stayed with the Black Watch for a few weeks, being debriefed and interacting with the scouts and snipers. After his ranking officer had all of the information that he thought he could obtain, he instructed my Granddad, though not in so many words, to take the Greek on a scouting mission to an isolated area and shoot him as he tried to escape. Granddad accepted his orders, spent the day with the Greek, bought him a beer at a village tavern and then sent him on his way with instructions to never again approach British lines. He reported his mission as accomplished to his CO.

Snipers were sometimes given assignments that were morally unacceptable to the gentlemen of the British Empire. A sniper's primary function, which was to shoot an enemy soldier without giving him a chance to defend himself, was not considered a gentlemanly endeavor. However ungentlemanly, the contributions of these sharpshooters saved the lives of untold Allied soldiers. And never more so than when they were in the trenches of France, where my Grandfather found himself at the end of the Great War.

Caroline and Charles Todd are a mother and son writing team who specialize in mysteries set in Britain and France during and immediately after the First World War. Their Bess Crawford mysteries follow the adventures of the intrepid WWI nurse as she unravels murder mysteries both at home and while serving in France. The Ian Rutledge series is a darker, more atmospheric one, set in post-war Britain and featuring a veteran who struggles with his demons from the war. Ian Rutledge returned from the war ready to lose himself in his work for Scotland Yard. His superior is not happy to have him back and tries, at every opportunity, to send him off to work on those cases that have the least chance of resolution and are preferably located farthest from London. And this enables us, as readers, to venture into those parts of the UK that we might otherwise have missed.

Book Cover for Hunting Shadows
Hunting Shadows
by Charles Todd
Published by Haper Collins
Date: January 21, 2014

In this, the 16th in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, the Inspector is sent to the Fens to find a mysterious rifleman who shot an Army officer outside of Ely Cathedral where a society wedding was about to take place. But Rutledge was sent only after a second shooting, this time of a political candidate, which occurred in a nearby town. This shooting was also committed in public as nearby residents gathered to hear the politician speak. A witness claims that the shooter, whom she glimpsed in a window, was a "monster."

Two shootings, apparently unconnected, except that they were both committed using a rifle in a public place. A rifle that should have been turned in when the troops left France at the end of the war.

So Rutledge cranks up his motorcar and heads up to Cambridgeshire. On his way to Ely, the fog closes in so densely that he can no longer see to drive. Getting out of the car, he is led to a nearby house by a stranger, who then disappears into the fog.

And that is a pretty clear definition of this mystery, where strangers, suspects, appear and disappear and all clues are shrouded in a clinging, heavy fog. There are no DNA samples, and the single physical clue will remain meaningless until the killer is found. The detecting in this novel is done through dialog as Inspector Rutledge, with some help from the local police, tracks down possible suspects, or those who might have some tangental information on either death that could tie them together. The two victims, one a social climbing Army officer, and the other a well liked local politician seem to have nothing in common except their service during the war. But they shared that with most men of their age in the UK. It is up to Rutledge to find what connects them to each other and to the murderer.

This satisfying mystery takes place in the flat marshlands of eastern England; its horizon dotted with the decaying windmills that were used to drain the Fens before being replaced by coal powered steam engine pumps. The flat surface allows the fog to roll in and violent storms to rage across the land, unhindered by any hills or valleys.

Todd deftly includes the details that flesh out how life was lived in the late teens and early twenties. He evokes the post-war atmosphere at home, as lonely young women are consigned to spinsterhood in the absence of marriageable men. Post traumatic stress disorder plagues our protagonist, who is still hearing the faint voice of Hamish, the young Scot who served under him and was shot for refusal to obey orders. Todd does a much better job of portraying Rutledge's torment in this novel than he did in his first of the series, A Test of Wills.

A Test of Wills was one of those books I struggled to finish. As fascinating as I find that era, and as good a job as Todd does in using it as a setting, the Hamish thing left me cold. It felt too much like a "hook," a way for the author to distinguish his work from others of the same era. Since I don't believe in ghosts, I never found Hamish believable. I felt that a voice so realistic would be more symptomatic of schizophrenia than of battle fatigue, shell shock or PTSD. It irritated me and took me completely out of the story.

In Hunting Shadows Hamish makes far fewer appearances, and those not as intrusive. The flashbacks and nightmares that Ian Rutledge experiences are more than enough to make his trauma obvious without the need for the voice of a dead Scot. And the mystery itself is well constructed and told. It really needs no other hook.

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