Charles Todd is the combined name of two wildly successful authors of mystery thrillers, mainly known for his series featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford.
These are set during the First World War as well as its aftermath. These novels have captivated readers for decades.
The Ian Rutledge books follow the eponymous detective as he traces clues and solves mysteries.
The character is also a victim of ‘shell shock’ from fighting in the war (what is currently known as PTSD), which he struggles with all the way through the books, personified by a voice that he hears called Hamish.
The Bess Crawford books follow the eponymous nurse as she helps soldiers to recover during the war.
However, she soon gets embroiled in various mysteries and murders and becomes a sort of amateur detective herself.
Who Is Charles Todd?
Charles Todd is actually not one person, but two.
It is the pen name of the mother and son writing team Caroline and David Watjen, who themselves go by the pen names Caroline and Charles Todd.
Their novels about Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford have garnered acclaim and become international bestsellers.
They have written over 40 novels in total, as well as a few novellas and some short stories.
Caroline died in 2021, but books continue to be written by her son David.
But which are their best books?
Well, I have done some searches and have uncovered them all.
I have listed them in the order they were written with a brief description of each, so you can see where you need to start.
Inspector Ian Rutledge Novels (In Chronological Order)
These are the novels that follow Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge, who suffers from shell shock and has to deal with Hamish, the belligerent voice of a soldier that Ian had to shoot during the war.
Here are those books in order:
This is the first novel in the Ian Rutledge series, introducing us to the character as he has to face the demons of his past while he investigates the murder of a well-respected army colonel.
The novel really evokes time and place, with some dynamic and beautifully written prose.
- The beginning of the Ian Rutledge novels
- A wonderful sense of place
- Great prose writing
- Gripping and thrilling
- Some readers have described this novel as predictable
Ian Rutledge now has to solve the murders of three members of the same family, one of those being the author of war poetry that helped save Rutledge himself from the brink of madness after the horrors of the war.
This is the second gripping chapter of the Ian Rutledge series, with the same evocative prose that drew so much praise for the first novel.
This has a few thousand great reviews on Amazon, so if you were a fan of the first book, then I would highly recommend you get stuck into the second.
- An engaging murder mystery thriller
- Great character study of the central character
- Great for fans of novels set during WWI
- Will not be for younger readers
When two children go missing, the finger is quickly pointed at a veteran plagued by the fact that his family was killed by a bomb during the war.
However, Ian Rutledge suspects that this is not the case and searches out the real culprit for this crime.
In his search for the two missing children, the plot gets thicker, involving more murders in Dorset and London, where privileged people exercise their power in the deepest and darkest parts of society.
This is one of the most gripping Rutledge novels yet.
- A thrilling story
- Set in the Devonshire countryside, which is well evoked
- A far more complex mystery
- Some readers have claimed the narrative is far too slow
The beginning of this book is set in the Scottish highland mountains where the body of a young woman is uncovered, and Ian Rutledge is set on the case.
This takes him back to his home country of Scotland, where he must face a lot of the demons from his past.
When he does find the killer, he realizes that it is someone that he already knows and to whom he owes quite a lot.
This next gripping tale delves deeper into the psyche of the main character, showing hidden layers of Rutledge that we have never seen before.
- A fantastic study of post-war trauma
- Takes Rutledge back to his past
- One of the darker Rutledge novels
- Might be too grisly for some readers
This next novel follows Rutledge as he investigates the murder of a priest in the marshy Norfolk Broadlands.
It is a twisting and turning tale that leads him to uncover secrets that have been hidden by the local authorities.
What first appeared as a straightforward case has now turned into one of massive intrigue.
Soon Rutledge finds out that the person who murdered the priest has very little to do with the church, in a case that leads to one of the greatest maritime disasters in history – the sinking of the Titanic.
This is a rollercoaster chapter in the Ian Rutledge series as it expands to include many events in history.
- This includes some of the most famous events in world history
- A novel with plenty of unexpected elements
- A killer with religious connections
- Some readers found this book too far fetched
This next novel turns the screw on Ian Rutledge as he has to face a decision that he made in his past – providing evidence that might have sent an innocent man to the gallows.
As he is forced to question everything that he thought was right, he also has to solve the mystery of two killers on the loose.
Meanwhile, the demons of his past show up and he is once again forced to confront the apparition of the Scottish soldier Hamish that he killed all those years ago.
- Explores the relationship between Ian and Hamish
- Reviewers have praised the continued strength of the series
- Deconstructs Rutledge’s sense of decency
- Some readers have said they don’t find this as believable as some of the other novels
Now we move on to another murder mystery, in fact, it is one of the worst murders that Rutledge has ever had to deal with.
The entire Elcott family has been murdered on their rural farm in Urskdale, however, the plot thickens when the police find out that one of the children has disappeared.
This is a great novel for anyone who enjoys a good thriller but likes it infused with a little bit of psychological detailing.
Once again, Rutledge must face his past so that he can save the missing boy and find the killer who uses the intense snow as a smokescreen.
- The snowy surroundings really ratchet up the tension
- An extremely intelligent murder mystery
- Great for anyone who likes characters facing the elements
- Might be too grim for some readers
In the next novel, Ian Rutledge discovered some ammunition, very similar to the ammunition he himself used during WWI.
However, this is no accident, and he soon discovers more and more of these bullets, realizing that they are being put in places where he will find them.
As Ian’s past catches up with him once again, he is drawn to Northamptonshire, where he has to solve the case of a policeman who has been killed in a very arcane manner – shot with a bow and arrow in the middle of a wood.
Once again, Rutledge has to deal with his past and present to solve the mystery.
- Ian Rutledge has to deal with a stalker
- An expertly paced book
- Juggles two narratives toward a gripping finale
- This will not be suitable for younger readers
In ‘A False Mirror’, Rutledge is called to investigate the brutal beating of a man in Hampton Regis.
However, the specter of his time in the way only serves to haunt him yet again, as the man accused of the crime is a soldier that he served alongside and fundamentally didn’t trust.
Now he is charged with defending this man and finding out the real culprit.
However, things get dicey when the victim of the beating disappears, leaving no trace of his whereabouts.
Can Ian Rutledge find a ruthless killer before he claims more victims?
- One of the more entertaining Ian Rutledge novels
- Darker and more interesting than some of the other novels
- Further exploration of Rutledge’s past
- Again, this is another very dark novel that might be too grim for some readers
This next Ian Rutledge mystery begins with a body found on the side of a mountain wrapped in a shroud with a gas mask placed on his face.
Is this murder as it seems or has the man accused of the murder simply been framed by somebody else?
This novel requires Rutledge to draw on all of his powers as a detective, questioning the locals who live in the shadow of a giant pale horse carved into the mountainside.
How can they help Rutledge? Which ones are telling the truth and which ones are trying to hinder his investigation?
- A riveting Rutledge novel that takes the reader to Berkshire
- Involves an intriguing mix of the past and the present
- Great character development
- Might not be that engaging for people who want the really dark plotlines
This next novel is regarded as a career peak by anyone who has followed the Ian Rutledge mysteries.
In this book, the detective is called to a rural English village to solve the murder of a successful yet much-loathed businessman from London.
As usual, Rutledge must draw on the ghost of the past to solve the problems of the present.
This time the trial leads him to an event that is so catastrophic that most people don’t even want to talk about it.
- A climactic Rutledge novel
- Another tale of a grisly murder
- An examination of the effects of war on a rural village
- Some readers have complained about the believability of the ending
This is another extremely atmospheric Ian Rutledge novel, this time dealing with the murder of a young woman that brings out ghosts from Rutledge’s past.
This was another New York Times bestselling novel and is probably one of the high watermarks of the series.
This is another novel that provides rich and three-dimensional inner lives of the key characters.
This trait marks out the Ian Rutledge novels as being completely different from other mystery and thriller novels.
- A great collection of characters
- Believable storyline
- Further exploration of Ian Rutledge’s psyche
- Some readers have complained that there are too many characters in this one
This is a short story involving Ian Rutledge, but that doesn’t mean it beats around the bush when it comes to riveting action.
When a girl is snatched, Rutledge has to find the girl within a very short window of time before something happens to her.
- A lightning-fast introduction to the world of Ian Rutledge
- Can be read as a standalone novel
- You don’t need much knowledge of the rest of the series
- Its short length might not satisfy fans keen on a full-length Rutledge novel
This is another novel that involves the death of soldiers that fought in WWI.
In this story, Rutledge is called to a rural village to investigate the deaths of 3 men.
This is another thrilling tale of justice and redemption, as Rutledge must face his past yet again.
- One of the more exciting Ian Rutledge novels
- Prefect for readers new to this series
- Great for fans of Margery Allingham and Ngaoi Marsh
- Some readers have complained this deviates too much from the classic Rutledge thriller template
This book starts off with a confession, but not the one that Ian Rutledge was expecting.
Without a corpse to verify the supposed killer’s claim, Rutledge must do some serious digging.
However, the plot takes a startling twist when the man who confessed to the murder is found floating in the Thames.
- A great read for those who like to tuck into a good mystery
- Full of complex details that will keep readers guessing
- Edge-of-your-seat reading that culminates in an explosive ending
- Some readers have complained about the slow pacing of this book
Things have changed at Ian Rutledge’s police headquarters.
He has a new Chief Superintendent who is breathing down his neck as he is trying to solve the murder of a wine merchant.
When the super tries to place the blame on the man’s lover, Rutledge is not convinced and does his best to uncover the truth of the case.
- Plenty of characters is a multi-layered plot
- A decent entry in a plot with plenty of twists and turns
- Fans of forensic novels will enjoy this one
- Could be too complicated for some people to follow
This is a short story that serves as a prequel to the Rutledge novels, following the detective as he serves in France as a soldier.
Even in the midst of battle, Rutledge gets involved in solving the attempted murder of one of the officers in his regimen by detonating explosives far too late.
Will Rutledge be able to get to the bottom of this in a raging war?
- Great for die-hard fans of the series
- Shows Rutledge in his war days
- A shorter novel that makes for a great vacation read
- Might not satisfy those who want a full-length Ian Rutledge mystery
When Ian Rutledge is called to investigate the case of murder at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, he has his work cut out for him.
Taking a series of bizarre witness testimonies, he cannot figure out the reason or the motive for a string of murders in the area.
- This is a classic Ian Rutledge novel in both tone and story
- Further explores Rutledge’s past serving in the war
- A bestselling novel
- This is a long book, which might not make it ideal for casual readers
This next story is one that takes place in Rutledge’s past when the world is on the brink of war.
Rutledge is ready to propose to the love of their life, meanwhile, a series of murders across the country speaks of a case that will lead him down an unexpected path.
- A portrait of a younger Rutledge in love
- A vivid description of Britain just before the Great War
- A plot full of twists
- Not for those readers who want a linear continuation of the Rutledge saga
This next Rutledge mystery involves 4 young women accused of murder in the rural countryside of Cornwall.
Here he will have to deal with many elements that are trying to prohibit him from delving too deeply into this case.
However, he knows he must persevere when people keep getting murdered.
- A new eerie location for the Rutledge novels
- A great place to start for casual Rutledge readers
- A satisfyingly convoluted plot
- Might be hard to follow for some readers
This next Rutledge novel takes us right back to the end of the war in 1919 and a few officers challenge themselves to a race to celebrate surviving the war, during which a car crash occurs, and multiple people are injured.
A year later, when one of the officers is killed in a similar car crash, is it just an accident or the result of foul play?
- This Rutledge novel takes place on the Continent
- The hunt for a killer who cannot be stopped
- A novel hailed as ‘complex’ and ‘heartbreaking’ by Hank Phillipi Ryan
- Some readers have complained that there are too many characters in this story
Next up, we have another shorter tale that this time explores the character of Hamish McLeod, the man that Ian Rutledge kills during the war.
This time it is Hamish’s turn to investigate the death of a young boy found in the heather.
Who murdered the mysterious piper that comes to Hamish’s home?
- A unique glimpse into a secondary character
- A great supplementary read for any fan of the Ian Rutledge novels
- Great for a vacation read
- Readers who want Ian Rutledge will have to wait for the next novel
Other Novels In The Ian Rutledge Series
Here are the rest of the books in the Ian Rutledge series:
- The Gate Keeper (2018)
- The Black Ascot (2019)
- A Divided Loyalty (2020)
- A Fatal Lie (2021)
- A Game of Fear (2022)
Bess Crawford Novels (In Chronological Order)
This is the other set of books that Charles Todd is known for writing.
These are also mystery thrillers that follow a First World War nurse Bess Crawford, who we join in 1916, where Bess is serving in France.
Charged with bringing a letter to the brother of a dying Lieutenant, she suddenly gets caught up in a tale of mystery and murder.
This first novel in the Bess Crawford saga starts off with a letter that she has to deliver to the brother of a dying soldier to one of his brothers.
The message itself is very cryptic, however, when Bess has a brush with death herself, she decides to deliver the message.
This is when she uncovers a plot involving murder, insanity, and intrigue.
- A rip-roaring introduction to the first Bess Crawford novel
- An intricately woven plot
- Glowing reviews from broadsheets
- Might not appeal to fans of Ian Rutledge
This is another Bess Crawford novel that involves our amateur sleuth getting herself in a dangerous scenario when her duty puts her in the path of a serial killer.
This is more edge-of-your-seat writing from the duo that brought you Ian Rutledge.
- Each character comes with a rich backstory
- More complex narrative writing
- Entertaining from start to finish
- Some readers say that Bess doesn’t do a lot of detective work in this novel
In this novel, the tables are turned on Bess Crawford as she finds herself under investigation for a murder that she did not commit.
This is a thrilling mystery that you can be sure will keep you guessing for weeks on end, that’s if you don’t finish the whole thing in a few days.
- A great follow-up to ‘An Impartial Witness’
- A female-centered narrative
- Written by a New York Times bestselling author
- Some readers have stated that they feel this character is too different this time around
Set during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, this novel follows a work-weary Bess Crawford as she uncovers one of her most thrilling cases yet.
The story is triggered when the body of a British soldier is found among the flu victims.
- A tumultuous tale set against an epidemic
- Will a stricken Bess solve the tale?
- A tale with plenty of twists and turns
- Some readers are left feeling unfulfilled by this novel
This novel extends all the way back to Bess Crawford’s childhood in 1908 when an officer killed 5 men in the regiment that her father served.
Fast forward to 1918, and Bess is looking after the wounded on the battlefield when she hears that the murderous officer is still serving on the front lines.
- A compelling tale with plenty of jeopardy
- The most exciting installment of the Bess Crawford series yet
- A great read for younger women
- Some readers found the plot of this one too slow.
When Bess is charged with looking after a soldier who is due to be decorated by the Queen, she commits to the task with her usual diligence.
However, soon the soldier goes missing, only to be recovered in the village of Shropshire where he has been convicted of murder.
- Bess Crawford faces disciplinary action as she is forced to look after a soldier
- Another classic murder mystery
- Great for fans of WWI detective fiction
- Some readers say they found the narrative confusing
Other Books In The Bess Crawford Series
- The Maharani’s Pearls (2014) (Short Story)
- A Pattern of Lies (2015)
- The Shattered Tree (2016)
- A Casualty of War (2017)
- A Forgotten Place (2018)
- A Cruel Deception (2019)
- A Hanging at Dawn (2020) (Short Story)
- An Irish Hostage (2021)
- The Cliff’s Edge (2023)
Charles Todd Standalone Books (In Chronological Order)
These are books that are not affiliated with Ian Rutledge or Bess Crawford.
- The Murder Stone (2003)
- The Walnut Tree (2012) (Novella)
- Mystery Writers of America Presents Death Do Us Part (2006)
- A Study in Sherlock (2011)
- Tales (2015)
- Death Knell V (2016)
- Odd Partners (2019)
If you want a thriller with very defined characters with psychological elements to the plot, then I would certainly recommend that you sample Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford and Ian Rutledge series, both of which occupy the same period, but both are very different heroes.
These books move back and forth in the life of their characters, and they do not follow chronological order.
You can browse through them and find out which novels take place during which time and sort them accordingly, although this will require a lot of detective work of your own!
There is a reason why this series is considered by its readers and reviewers to be the best.
The writing is vivid and moves the plot along in a way that is exciting and intriguing.
There is something for both male and female crime fans in all of Charles Todd’s books.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Order Of Ian Rutledge Novels In The Chronology Of His Life?
If you want to follow the life of Ian Rutledge in the order of his life, here is the order you’ll need to read them:
A Fine Summer’s Day
A Test of Wills
Wings of Fire
Search the Dark
Legacy of the Dead
Watchers of Time
A Fearsome Doubt
A Cold Treachery
A Long Shadow
A False Mirror
A Pale Horse
A Matter of Justice
The Red Door
A Lonely Death
Proof of Guilt
No Shred of Evidence
Racing the Devil
The Black Ascot
A Divided Loyalty
A Fatal Lie
A Game of Fear