How Charles Todd Met Hamish McLeod: The Mother-Son Team Behind Inspector Ian Rutledge

Hamish McLeod, a Scottish soldier in a British regiment during the Great War, was introduced to the reading public in 1996 in Charles Todd’s first novel, A Test of Wills. The book, the first in a solidly successful 21-book series, went on to be selected as one of the century’s 100 favorite mysteries. Hamish is a dominating presence in all of the novels—quite an achievement for someone who usually appears in only a few pages.  And someone who happens to be dead.

The series’ detective hero, Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, a “gaunt-faced stranger with his clipped voice and bleak eyes,” was Hamish’s commanding officer in the trenches when a German machine gunner had to be taken out. McLeod disobeyed Rutledge’s order to charge into no-man’s-land, so Rutledge executed him. Hamish promptly took up residence in guilt-ridden Rutledge’s skull and accompanies him now on his investigations, taunting, mocking, warning.

Hamish was not part of the first plan for the novel.  He just turned up one day. “He came to us as we were developing Rutledge as a character,” said Charles Todd, one-half of a mother-son writing collaboration that goes by that single name. “We were trying to describe how Rutledge was dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, and Hamish came out of the writing. It wasn’t planned.”

Charles and Caroline Todd

“We think of Hamish as an expression of what Rutledge went through,” said Caroline Todd, the maternal half of the team. “He can’t come home badly burned or missing a leg and still go back to the Yard. And we couldn’t have him come home and say, ‘I’ve had a wonderful war.”

As Charles tells it, the collaboration began in 1994. “Driving down the interstate, Caroline said to me, ‘We should write a mystery together.’ I said, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ But then I had some free time in the evenings. So I contacted Caroline. Laptops and email were a relatively new thing then. Nobody said to us, ‘This is how you do it.’ We had to figure out our own method. We took it scene by scene.”

They still do. “One will say, ‘How do you think it should go?’” Caroline explained.  “And then, when it gets to the point where we start using words, he’ll write something. I’ll write something. ‘Let’s try this.’ Then we put it on my computer.”

A Test of Wills was submitted to its publisher over the transom, and the response was a request for a three-book series. Two decades later, Hamish is still “expressing the conflict Rutledge is facing within his own being,” Caroline said. “As long as Hamish is alive in his mind, the guilt of murder is not as powerful. ” Charles added, “People often says to me, ‘I hope Rutledge gets better some day.’  I tell them, ‘I hope it’s not any day soon.'”




About the Author:

Don Crinklaw is a former university teacher currently working as a reporter for the Tribune Company in Fort Lauderdale. He's written reviews for Booklist, Commonweal, National Review, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

3 Comments on "How Charles Todd Met Hamish McLeod: The Mother-Son Team Behind Inspector Ian Rutledge"

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  1. Martha Greene Scott says:

    As beautifully as Ian is drawn, Hamish is an integral part of his character: he cannot “recover” from him. Hamish is the reason Ian can work and function as a human with humanity. We all are products of our past and it takes all of it to be who we are.
    After having read all of Maisie Dobbs and Britain’s part in WWI, my interest in PTSD spurred me on to these books and each one has made a profound impact on my life. My awareness has been heightened due to these books. Thank you.

  2. Beatriz says:

    I’ve loved and followed both series. I think even if Ian gets cured and Hamish is no longer in his mind, he will still live on in Ian’s memory, so he needn’t disappear altogether. Hamish is like one of those ghosts in haunted tales–we love them but we want to see them ultimately resting in peace.

  3. Bronwyn Mackay-Payne says:

    I think the concept of Hamish living on in Ian’s memory is sufficient. Surely even in post WW1 studies in psychiatry and society at large there came about A gradual understanding of PTSD and that with so many returned soldiers impacted, social norms changed in their treatment of PTSD and shell shocked victims as being cowards??!!
    I bare poor Fiona no malice but I can see a storyline in Fiona being killed off in a tragic accident opening the way for her reunion with Hamish in the afterlife and Ian Rutledge reuniting with his Godfather David Trevor to ultimately take young Ian on as his ward and mentor!!

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