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10 Best Charles Todd Books (2024)

Best Charles Todd BooksThe Author(s)

The author I will be introducing to you in this article, Charles Todd, is a rather unusual character. This is because Charles Todd is not actually a singular person. It is the pen name used by the real Charles Todd and his mother Caroline Todd. But it does not even end there because those are not even their actual names. They are registered in the public record as Carolyn and David Watjen.

Great Praise and Recognition

This mother-son duo is from the United States and they are known for their mystery/crime thrillers. Most of their works are in the form of series and in this writing, we will go over two of them; the Inspector Ian Rutledge series and the Bess Crawford series. Their work has received great praise over the years and they hold two Agatha Awards and an Anthony Award among others.

Best Charles Todd Books

The Inspector Ian Rutledge Series


The Most Renowned Series

The Inspector Ian Rutledge series is the most renowned and well-known work published under the name of Charles Todd. The series takes place in the heart of the United Kingdom, London and they take us back to a chapter of history that should not be forgotten. It also touches on the subject of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as Shellshock or Combat Fatigue.

A Test of Wills


The Aftermath of The War

As usual, we will start off our article with one of the most popular Charles Todd books, The Test of Wills. It is a crime and mystery piece that takes place in a historical setting. The setting in question is one of the most popular and interesting ones of modern literature, the post-World War I era. More specifically, it takes place just one year after the conclusion of the war in 1918.

The events of the story revolve around, of course, Ian Rutledge. A man who served in the Great War and was even forced to execute one of his fellow men who refused to fight for his country. This gruesome event was the salt for Rutledge’s already devastating psychological wounds caused by the war and he is still not free of the suffering they cause him.

Demons From Days Past

So, you can imagine his state of mind when he is tasked with investigating a murder associated with the military. Not only is he forced to get involved with the army, but the case also hits the Yard Inspector very close to home. Ian must hold the ropes of his sanity tight as he pries the mystery apart and his struggle to do so makes up for one of the best Charles Todd books.

Wings of Fire


A Suspicious Case

The second book of the Ian Rutledge series as well as this list is one of the best selling Charles Todd books, Wings of Fire. This sequel was published in 1998, four years after the publication of the first piece but there is not a noticeable time gap between the events of the books. There is a notable difference between the two though. Mainly, this piece feels a lot more embedded in British culture.

In this story, Rutledge is sent to look into the suspicious case of the prestigious Cornwall Family. Three members of the family have passed away very recently and as our beloved inspector figures out soon enough, this kind of thing does not usually happen on its own. Thus, the veteran detective is once again set on the course of finding out the truth that lies behind the curtains.

Now, it is Personal

The inspector gets even more curious about the case when he learns that O.A. Manning, whose poetry about war helped him get through his miserable days in France, is one of the victims. What awaits him is a thick web of haunting family secrets stinking with death and insanity. With its rich atmosphere and subtle glimpses into the human psyche, this piece is a strong contender for the best Charles Todd novel title.

Search the Dark


Unnerving Story

We are carrying on with our Charles Todd books ranked article and the third piece we will take a look at is Search the Dark. The third book of the series stands out among the rest with its unusually grim setting and dark story. I also think that the title of this piece is a nod to this as in Rutledge taking himself to the darkest of places in order to set things straight and bring justice to the land.

The unnerving story starts off with a dead woman and two missing children who are all inhabitants of the rich and beautiful town of Singleton Magna. Similar to the previous book Wings of Fire, our protagonist is forced to walk on eggshells as he is doing his job to avoid upsetting any of the residents. To make matters even more complicated, the lead suspect in the case is a veteran who lost his family in a bombing.

No Pressure At All

Something in Rutledge tells him that the veteran is not the guy they are looking but he finds himself between a rock and a hard place when another woman is found dead and the investigation gets even more heated. Not to mention that the lives of the two missing children possibly depend on his judgment. The high-suspense setting of this story makes it my personal best Charles Todd book.

Legacy of the Dead


Our First Clear Look

We are almost done with the Inspector Ian Rutledge series and the fourth book I will be introducing to you is Legacy of the Dead, another one of the top rated Charles Todd books. For me, this piece tells one of the most interesting stories in the series. The events themselves are not all that grandiose but thanks to them, we are allowed to take our first clear look into the past of the inspector we have been invested in for three books.

The story revolves around Eleanor Gray, an unfortunate woman whose rotting body has been discovered on the Scottish mountainside. The first challenge Rutledge is faced with as he is tracking down the culprit is the victim’s mother Lady Maude Gray. She has an authoritarian character, to say the least, and breaking the news of her daughter is a tough job even for our seasoned war veteran.

Debts of The Past

However, the hardships of this case are not limited to a grumpy old woman. Soon enough, the mystery will lead Rutledge into the heart of Scotland where many of his secrets have been laying undisturbed for a long time. One of the remnants of his past is a young mother he owes a great debt to and who turns out to be the lead suspect in the case. This convoluting story puts this piece in the competition for the best Charles Todd book title.

Watchers of Time


Focusing More on Rutledge

We are almost halfway done with our article and Watchers of Time is the last one of Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge books that I have in order for you. This book holds a special place in the series as it chooses to focus more on the protagonist and what goes on in his mind as he is solving his case. The story also has a slow pace which allows for further character-building.

This piece takes us to Osterley, one of the swampy backwaters of Norfolk. There, a man is about to lose his life. Baker is waiting for death to claim his soul as the stormy fall rains pound the roof of his house. The man whom we learn to be a devout Anglican makes a strange last wish that puzzles his friends and family, to meet the Catholic priest of the town in order to make a final confession.

Something Fishy

The waters turn a little muddy when the priest himself is murdered two weeks after this confession. The local police tag the event as a robbery and they even name a suspect. The priest’s bishop, however, insists the case be handled by a Scotland Yard Inspector. As you can guess, this is where Rutledge comes into play and creates this great contribution to our Charles Tood book reviews list.

Bess Crawford Series


A Saver, Not a Killer

We went over the first five books of Inspector Ian Rutledge and now, we will take a look at the next best Charles Todd series which is Bess Crawford. The biggest difference between the two series is that this one is set in one of the most heated years of the Great War, 1916. Bess Crawford herself is the daughter of a military officer and serves as a nurse in the war.

A Duty to the Dead


Responsibility, Honor, and Duty

The first book of the series which also stands as one of the best rated Charles Todd books introduces us to the main character and tells us a little bit about her past. I have mentioned that her father was an officer earlier and we also learn that she grew up in India because her father was serving there at the time. There, she “learned the importance of responsibility, honor, and duty”.

The story of this book revolves around a wounded lieutenant named Arthur Graham. We learn that Bess had grown fond of him as she treated him. She has also noticed that something in his conscience seems to really trouble the sickly man. In the hopes of giving him some relief, the young nurse agrees to deliver a message to the lieutenant’s brother which she can only do months later.

A Cold Goodbye

She arrives at the now-dead soldier’s house and is surprised by the indifference his brother shows while she shares Arthur’s dying wish. This insensitivity reasonably leaves the nurse upset and she is further annoyed when she gets the same response from the mother or the other brother. Feeling unsettled, she sets out to fulfill the soldier’s wish herself but this road soon leads her into a web of intrigue and murder.

An Impartial Witness


Love Amidst Death

We are carrying on with our article and the next piece we will go over is the second of the Charles Todd books in chronological order of the Bess Crawford series, An Impartial Witness. Some time has passed since the events of the first book as this piece picks up the story of our detective nurse from the early summer of 1917.

The story starts with Crawford’s return to London along with a convoy of critically wounded soldiers. There, a soldier who is covered with severe burns all over and desperately clings to life for his wife whose picture is pinned to his tunic. Before her departure, Crawford also sees the woman in the picture as she is bidding farewell to another officer in the train station.

In The Middle Once Again

She does not pay the event any attention and does not get involved. But when she is back in France, she will see a newspaper article with a picture of the exact same woman and learn that she has been murdered on the same day she saw her. She once again finds herself in the middle of a sticky situation and its story makes for one of the best Charles Todd novels.

A Bitter Truth


Damsel in Distress

We are at the seventh piece of our Charles Todd book list and now, we will briefly go over the third book of the Bess Crawford series which is A Bitter Truth. This time around, the beloved nurse is on leave from her job and spends her days in London. One day, she stumbles over a woman who is lying in front of her house. The woman clearly seems to be in distress and Crawford feels pity.

No Good Deed Remains Unpunished

She talks with the woman for a while and learns that she has fled to London after her husband struck her. After a little back and forth, she convinces her to travel back to her home country together. But once again, the helpful nature of Crawford sets a troublesome chain of events into motion and in turn, gives us one of the best Charles Todd novels.

An Unmarked Grave


Double Threat

We are almost at the end of our article and the ninth piece I will be introducing to you is the latest Charles Todd book in this list, An Unmarked Grave. This time around, the series takes us to the spring of 1918. The Spanish flu epidemic that is taking place along with the heavy confrontations on the French front ensure that our battlefield nurse Bess Crawford is busy at all times.

A Familiar Place

In the middle of all her duties, however, Crawford is distracted by a familiar face from the past that is almost unrecognizable amidst all the other dead soldiers waiting for burial. But before she can report this event, she is struck by the Spanish flu herself and by the time she gets better, the body is buried and the only other person who saw it is dead. This piece is undoubtedly one of the best Charles Todd books out there.

The Walnut Tree


Birth of The War

The Walnut Tree will be the closing piece of our article as well as the last one of Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford books that I have in order for you. One thing worth mentioning about this piece is that it is not the fifth book of the series. It is titled the #4.5 book and its events take place even before the events of the first book. It is 1914, the war is ripe and Crawford is just a nurse-in-training.

Lady Elspeth Douglas

Lady Elspeth Douglas is the daughter of a Highland laird and she comes from a family whose roots go all the way back to the court of Mary, Queen of Scots. She is visiting a friend in France when the Germans cast the first bullet and she finds herself surrounded by utter chaos as France is threatened and its army is mobilized. Not long after, she is left stranded on the French coast and does not what to do besides carry water.

Thankfully, she is soon rescued by a romantic interest -of which there are two in this book, which is a subplot I will not get into right now.- and located back in London. Still, she can not shake the war off herself and decides to enroll in a nursing course in the hopes of being useful in the future of the war. The unusual transformation of this high-class character and Crawford’s appearances make this piece one of the best books by Charles Todd.

Final Thoughts


The works produced by this mother-son duo called Charles Todd are extremely interesting to me. I just wish I could learn a little about their creative processes and how they actually manage to write a book “together”. As for the two series we talked about, I do not think they have any drawbacks or faults at all. It is clear what each book is about and they deliver what they promise without any hassle at all.

Alissa Wynn

Alissa is an avid reader, blogger, and wannabe writer. (She's a much better cook than a writer actually). Alissa is married, has one human, one feline, and two canine kids. She always looks a mess and never meets a deadline.