A Mystery Behind a Mystery Is Revealed
Bridget Kinsella -- 9/11/00
Bantam finds more lurking behind Charles Todd than a fourth novel
When Charles Todd's fourth Ian Rutledge novel, Legacy of the Dead, is published under a new contract with Bantam next month, the plot's post-World War I crime is not the only mystery to be revealed. Word is just now getting out that Todd, who has been a New York Times notable and a bookseller favorite since his first mystery, A Test of Wills, was published by St. Martin's in 1996, did not act alone. All along there's been an unlikely accomplice lurking in the wings, plotting murder: namely, his mother, Caroline.
"It's the weirdest thing," Caroline Todd told PW from her Delaware home. "I can sit here and talk to you and feel completely like Charles Todd. But I don't want to confuse the reader." She said they never set out to deceive anyone, it's just that when they wrote the first book together she was experiencing some health problems, and mother and son (who both adopted the pseudonym Todd for writerly purposes) decided it would be less confusing to have only one name on the manuscript. "When A Test of Wills was finished we never expected anyone to like it," she told PW. "It's very difficult to get published. But then we gave it to Ruth Cavin at St. Martin's and she loved it."
The mystery behind the mystery of Charles Todd remained a secret until this winter when Todd's agent Jane Chelius (who was in on it all along) starting shopping the fourth book around to other houses. That's when Bantam v-p and executive editor Kate Miciak entered the scene, not that she was unfamiliar with Todd's work. Bantam published A Test of Wills in paper and Miciak told PW that it was one of those books she personally kept on hand for visitors who might need something to read for the weekend. "We had basically concluded negotiations for the book. That's when I learned that Charles Todd was a collaboration." she said. "It was a surprise."
The Todds' collaboration was certainly a surprise to booksellers PW spoke with recently. "Oh, my God," said Judy Duhl, owner of Scotland Yard in Winnetka, Ill. "I'm shaking." Duhl said Charles Todd has been a steady seller at her store since his first book and has even made an appearance there. "I was just so curious to meet the man," she told PW. But something about Todd didn't gel with the complexity of his character Ian Rutledge, a shell-shocked British WWI veteran who is prodded on by the voice of one of his men who died in battle. "He needles him, but never coddles him," Duhl said of Hamish, Rutledge's alter ego. "There is somebody very caring and sensitive in Rutledge and in this author," she explained. "I wanted to see some vestige of the soul in this man. He seems like a lovely, competent businessman, but I was really surprised when I met him because I didn't see this soulful person come out. Wh ver it is, one of them or both of them are very good writers."
Yet Duhl said she feels defrauded by the Todds' secret collaboration. She is not alone, but once they got over the shock booksellers seemed ready to sell Charles Todd the same way that they always have.
"There's been some gossip about whether Charles Todd is his real name, but I haven't heard anything about the mother," said Steven Stilwell, owner of Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis. At the end of the day, Stilwell said, the revelation of the mother-and-son collaboration will not affect sales for the book. "Charles Todd sells pretty well," he said. "I keep the first one face out almost all of the time to get people started on the series. We're happy to sell them."
Like many people in publishing in late August, Charles Todd was unavailable for comment, but it is reported that he is looking forward to sharing the spotlight with his mother.
Miciak said Bantam believes booksellers will have a similar reaction to the news as they did on staff. "At first they'll be stunned. But then we expect they are going to embrace Caroline like we did," she said. Book tour plans, which are in the works, include author appearances with Charles and Caroline together or individually, depending on bookseller preference. Miciak said she thought it would be business as usual for the release of Legacy of the Dead. "The most important thing are the books," she said. "And they sell themselves."
Volume 246 Issue 37 09/11/2000