Five Questions About Edgar Allan Poe: Charles Todd

A Matter of Justice
by Charles Todd
December 2008, 336 pages, $24.99

Charles Todd is the pen-name used by mother and son writing team, Charles and Caroline Todd. They are the authors of 11 books featuring Scotland Yard inspector, Ian Rutledge. Separating the Todds’ detective hero from others within the genre is his secret: Rutledge is haunted by a young soldier he was forced to execute during the First World War. Rutledge is back in A Matter of Justice, released last month. In this new work, Rutledge must piece together the clues to solve the murder of Private Harold Quarles, found brutally murdered at his estate. Quarles, Rutledge discovers, made a horrible choice following a attack on a military train during the Boer war. He’s hardly the most admired man in his community, and the suspects are many. Rutledge must sort though the rabble, while sorting out his own demons.

Charles and Caroline Todd are today’s Re:Print Special Guests here to answer Five Questions about Edgar Allan Poe.

Describe your first Poe experience.

Caroline Todd: My father read The Gold Bug to me when I was seven and our beach day was rained out. I read it to Charles when he was eight or so. I wondered if he, as a boy, would picture it differently, and he did — he remembers the action while I remembered the deciphering of the code.

What would you consider Poe’s greatest work, and why?

Charles Todd: I’d say Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter. They were the first mystery stories, and all mystery writers owe Poe a debt for creating a fascinating detective. That’s why the symbol of Mystery Writers of America is the bust of Poe.

Caroline Todd: I have to agree. But I love his poems as well, and the lyricism with which he wrote them.

How has Poe’s work shaped you as a reader/writer?

Charles Todd: As a reader? Probably his use of words has had the greatest influence, aside from his detective stories. And as a writer, that’s true also. Use of language is an important tool, and when you grow up reading good books and poetry, this becomes a yardstick for your own work.

Caroline Todd: Because my father and mother read to us as children, I still hear their voices as I read Poe now, and the fascinating thing is that when I write, I hear the voices of characters in my head as if they too were being read aloud. It’s a marvelous way to edit yourself as a writer, and I recommend it.

Charles and Caroline Todd

Which of your own works owes the largest debt to Poe and why?

Charles and Caroline Todd: The second book in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series required us to write a body of poetry for a woman who is dead and possibly a murderess. The clues to finding the killer are in the slim volumes she’d written under a man’s name, and our readers had to see what Rutledge was seeing in order to following his thinking. That’s playing fair. If we hadn’t had a background in poetry and a sense of the use of words to convey feeling and atmosphere, especially Poe’s, we could never have created [fictional character and poet] O.A. Manning’s works.

If you were hosting the celebrations for Poe’s big day, how would have your guests celebrate?

Caroline Todd: There’s a Park Ranger in the Poe House in Philadelphia who did an impersonation of Poe for the Delaware Valley Sisters in Crime chapter. We’d invite her because she’s so believable, and ask her to greet our guests.

Charles Todd: And we’d ask each guest to bring something representative of their favorite story or poem. I think because of the shadows in Poe’s life and his early death, it would be interesting to celebrate by candlelight and mark major events of each decade in a moveable feast of courses, and a few words from “Poe” himself as we acknowledged each stage. Anybody know where we could find a cask of Amontillado?

Charles and Caroline Todd are currently on tour around the country. Visit their website for details.